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5. Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 Summary

From the perspective of the United States, the origins of the insurgency in South Vietnam raise four principal questions: 1. Was the breakdown of the peace of 1954 the fault of the U.S., or of the ambiguities and loopholes of the Geneva Accords? 2. Was the insurgency in essence an indigenous rebellion against Ngo Dinh Diem's oppressive government, transformed by the intervention of first the U.S., and then the DRV? 3. Or was it, rather, instigated, controlled, and supported from its inception by Hanoi? 4. When did the U.S. become aware of the Viet Cong threat to South Vietnam's internal security, and did it attempt to counter it with its aid? The analysis which follows rests on study of three corpora of evidence: (a) Intelligence reports and analyses, including the most carefully guarded finished intelligence, and pertinent National Intelligence Estimates. (b) Unfinished governmental intelligence, field reports, and memoranda such as interrogations of prisoners and translated captured documents, as well as contract studies based on similar evidence. (c) Open sources, including the works of former U.S. officials, Vietnam correspondents, and the like. The U.S. has attempted to amplify (c) by publishing White Papers in 1961 and 1965, in which substantial citations were made from (b) and interpretations offered consistent with (a). This study has benefited from further effort during 1967 and early 1968 to identify in (b) evidence which could be publicly released. But, based on the survey of (a), (b), and (c) reported on below, the U.S. can now present no conclusive answers to the questions advanced above. Tentative answers are possible, and form a continuum: By 1956, peace in Vietnam was plainly less dependent upon the Geneva Settlement than upon power relationships in Southeast Asia-principally upon the role the U.S. elected to play in unfolding events. In 1957 and 1958, a structured rebellion against the government of Ngo Dinh Diem began. While the North Vietnamese played an ill-defined part, most of those who took up arms were South Vietnamese, and the causes for which they fought were by no means contrived in North Vietnam. In 1959 and 1960, Hanoi's involvement in the developing strife became evident. Not until 1960, however, did the U.s. perceive that Diem was in serious danger of being overthrown and devise a Counterinsurgency Plan. It can be established that there was endemic insurgency in South Vietnam throughout the period 1954-1960. It can also be established-but less surelythat the Diem regime alienated itself from one after another of those elements within Vietnam which might have offered it political support, and was grievously at fault in its rural programs. That these conditions engendered animosity toward the GVN seems almost certain, and they could have underwritten a major resistance movement even without North Vietnamese help.




Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


It is equally clear that North Vietnamese communists operated some form of subordinate apparatus in the South in the years 1954-1960. Nonetheless, the Viet Minh "stay-behinds" were not directed originally to structure an insurgency, and there is no coherent picture of the extent or effectiveness of communist activities in the period 1956-1959. From all Indications, this was a period of reorganization and recruiting by the communist party. No direct links have been established between Hanoi and perpetrators of rural violence. Statements have been found in captured party histories that the communists plotted and controlled the entire insurgency, but these are difficult to take at face value. Bernard Fall ingeniously correlated DRV complaints to the ICC of incidents in South Vietnam. in 1957 with GVN reports of the same incidents, and found Hanoi suspiciously well informed. He also perceived a pattern in the terrorism of 1957-1959~ deducing that a broad, centrally directed strategy was being implemented. However, there is little other corroborative evidence that Hanoi instigated the incidents. much less orchestrated them. Three interpretations of the available evidence are possible: Option A-That the DRV intervened in the South in reaction to U.S. escalation, particularly that of President Kennedy in early 1961. Those who advance this argument rest their case principally on open sources to establish the reprehensible character of the Diem regime, on examples of forceful resistance to Diem independent of Hanoi, and upon the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF) alleged to have come into being in South Vietnam in early 1960. These also rely heavily upon DRV official statements of 1960-1961 indicating that the DRV only then proposed to support the NLF. Option B-The DRV manipulated the entire war. This is the official U.S. position, and can be supported. Nonetheless, the case is not wholly compelling, especially for the years 1955-1959. Option C-The DRV seized an opportunity to enter an ongoing internal war in 1959 prior to, and independent of, U.S. escalation. This interpretation is more tenable than the previous; still, much of the evidence is circumstantial. The judgment offered here is that the truth lies somewhere between Option B and C. That is, there was some form of DRV apparatus functioning in the South throughout the years, but it can only be inferred that this apparatus originated and controlled the insurgency which by 1959 posed a serious challenge to the Diem government. Moreover, up until 1958, neither the DRV domestic situation nor its international support was conducive to foreign adventure; by 1959~ its prospects were bright in both respects, and it is possible to demonstrate its moving forcefully abroad thereafter. Given the paucity of evidence now, well after the events, U.S. intelligence served policy makers of the day surprisingly well in warning of the developments described below:

FAILURE OF THE GENEVA SETTLEMENT The Geneva Settlement of 1954 was inherently flawed as a durable peace for Indochina, since it depended upon France, and since both the U.S. and the Republic of South Vietnam excepted themselves. The common ground from which the nations negotiated at the Geneva Conference was a mutual desire to halt the hostilities between France and the Viet Minh, and to prevent any widening of the war. To achieve concord, they had to override objections of the Saigon government, countenance the disassociation of the U.S. from the Settlement, and accept France as one executor. Even so, Geneva might have wrought an enduring peace for Vietnam if France had remained as a major power in Indochina, if


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Ngo Dinh Diem had cooperated with the terms of the settlement, il the U.S. had abstained from further influencing the outcome. No one of these conditions was likely, given France's travail in Algeria, Diem's implacable anti-communism, and the U.S: determination to block further expansion of the DRV in Southeast Asia. Therefore, the tragedy staged: partition of Vietnam, the sole negotiable basis found at Geneva for military disengagement, became the prime casus belli. To assuage those parties to Geneva who were reluctant to condone the handing over of territory and people to a communist government, and to reassure the Viet Minh that their southern followers could be preserved en bloc. the Accords provided for regrouping forces to North and South Vietnam and for Vietnamese freely electing residence in either the North or the South; the transmigrations severely disrupted the polity of Vietnam, heated the controversy over reunification, and made it possible for North Vietnam to contemplate subversive aggression. Both sides were fearful that the armistice would be used to conceal construction of military bases or other preparations for aggression; but these provisions depended on a credible international supervision which never materialized. Partition and regroupment pitted North against South Vietnam. and arms control failed patently and soon. Geneva traded on long-run risks to achieve short-run disengagement. France withdrew from Vietnam, leaving the Accords in the hands of Saigon. Lasting peace came between France and the Viet Minh, but the deeper struggle for an independent, united Vietnam remained, its international implications more grave, its dangers heightened. The Southeast Asia policy of the U.S. in the aftermath of the Geneva Conference was conservative, focused on organizing collective defense against further inroads of communism, not on altering status quo. Status quo was the two Vietnams set up at Geneva, facing each other across a demilitarized zone. Hanoi, more than other powers, had gambled: hedged by the remaining Viet Minh, it waited for either Geneva's general elections or the voracious political forces in the South to topple the Saigon government. In South Vietnam, Diem had begun his attempt to gain control over his people, constantly decried DRV subversion and handling of would-be migrants as violations of the Geneva Accords, and pursued an international and domestic policy of anti-communism. Both Vietnams took the view that partition was, as the Conference Final Declaration stated, only temporary. But statements could not gainsay the practical import of the Accords. The separation of Vietnam at the 17th parallel facilitated military disengagement, but by establishing the principle that two regimes were separately responsible for "civil administration" each in distinct zones; by providing for the regroupment of military forces to the two zones, and for the movement of civilians to the zone of their choice; and by postponing national elections for at least two years, permitting the regimes in Hanoi and Saigon to consolidate power, the Geneva conferees in fact fostered two governments under inimical political philosophies, foreign policies. and socio-economic systems. The Geneva powers were imprecise-probably deliberately indefinite--concerning who was to carry out the election provisions. France, which was charged with civil administration in the "regrouping ZI .ne" of South Vietnam, had granted the State of Vietnam its independence in June 1954, six weeks before the Accords were drawn up. Throughout 1954 and the first half of 1955. France further divested itself of authority in South Vietnam: police, local government, and then the Army of Vietnam were freed of French control, and turned over to the Saigon government. Concurrently, the U.S. began to channel aid directly to South Vietnam. rather than through France. The convolution of French policy then

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245 thrust upon the U.S. a choice between supporting Diem or the French presence in Indochina. The U.S. opted for Diem. By the time the deadlines for election consultations feU due in July 1955, South Vietnam was sovereign de facto as well as de jure. waxing strong with U.S. aid. and France was no longer in a position to exert strong influence on Diem's political actions. As early as January 1955. President Diem was stating publicly that he was unlikely to proceed with the Geneva elections: Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960

Southern Viet-Nam. since it protested the Geneva Agreement when it was made. does not consider itself a party to that Agreement. nor bound by it. In any event. the clauses providing for the 1956 elections are extremely vague. But at one point they are clear-in stipulating that the elections are to be free. Everything will now depend on how free elections are defined. The President said he would wait to see whether the conditions of freedom would exist in North Viet-Nam at the time scheduled for the elections. He asked what would be the good of an impartial counting of votes if the voting has been preceded in North Viet-Nam by a campaign of ruthless propaganda and terrorism on the part of a police state. As the deadline for consultations approached (20 July 1955). Diem was increasingly explicit that he did not consider free elections possible in North Vietnam. and had no intention of consulting with the DRV concerning them. The U.S. did not-as is often alleged-connive with Diem to ignore the elections. U.S. State Department records indicate that Diem's refusal to be bound by the Geneva Accords and his opposition to pre-election consultations were at his own initiative. However. the U.S.• which had expected elections to be held. and up until May 1955 had fully supported them. shifted its position in the face of Diem's opposition, and of the evidence then accumulated about the oppressive nature of the regime in North Vietnam. "In essence," a State Department historical study found, "our position would be that the whole subject of consultations and elections in Viet-Nam should be left up to the Vietnamese themselves and not dictated by external arrangements which one of the parties never accepted and still rejects:' Secretary of State Dulles explained publicly that: Neither the United States Government nor the Government of Viet-Nam is. of course, a party to the Geneva armistice agreements. We did not sign them. and the Government of Viet-Nam did not sign them and, indeed, protested against them. On the other hand. the United States believes. broadly speaking. in the unification of countries which have a historic unity, where the people are akin. We also believe that. if there are conditions of really free elections, there is no serious risk that the Communists would win. . . . Thus, backed by the U.S., Diem obdurately refused to open talks with the Hanoi government. He continued to maintain that the Government of South Vietnam had not signed the Geneva Agreements and thus was not bound by them. OUf policy is a policy for peace. But nothing will lead us astray of our goal. the unity of our country, a unity in freedom and not in slavery. Serving the cause of our nation, more than ever we will struggle for the reunification of our homeland.


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1 We do not reject the principle of free elections as peaceful and democratic means to achieve that unity. However, if elections constitute one of the bases of true democracy, they will be meaningful only on the condition that they be absolutely free. Now, faced with a regime of oppression as practiced by the Viet Minh, we remain skeptical concerning the possibility of fulfilling the conditions of free elections in the North.

On 1 June 1956, the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Walter Robertson, stated: President Diem and the Government of Free Viet-Nam reaffirmed on April 6 of this year and on other occasions their desire to seek the reunification of Viet-Nam by peaceful means. In this goal, we support them fully. We hope and pray that the partition of Viet-Nam, imposed against the will of the Vietnamese people, will speedily come to an end. For our part we believe in free elections, and we support President Diem fully in his position that if elections are to be held, there first must be conditions which preclude intimidation or coercion of the electorate. Unless such conditions exist there can be no free choice. President Eisenhower is widely quoted to the effect that in 1954 as many as 80% of the Vietnamese people would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, as the popular hero of their liberation, in an election against Bao Dai, In October 1955, Diem ran against Bao Dai in a referendum and won-by a dubiously overwhelming vote, but he plainly won nevertheless. It is almost certain that by 1956 the proportion which might have voted for Ho--in a free election against Diemwould have been much smaller than 80%. Diem's success in the South had been far greater than anyone could have foreseen, while the North Vietnamese regime had been suffering from food scarcity, and low public morale stemming from inept imitation of Chinese Communism-including a harsh agrarian program that reportedly led to the killing of over 50,000 small-scale "landlords:' The North Vietnamese themselves furnished damning descriptions of conditions within the DRV in 1955 and 1956. Vo Nguyen Giap, in a public statement to his communist party colleagues, admitted in autumn, 1956, that: We made too many deviations and executed too many honest people. We attacked on too large a front and, seeing enemies everywhere, resorted to terror, which became far too widespread. . . . Whilst carrying out our land reform program we failed to respect the principles of freedom of faith and worship in many areas . . . in regions inhabited by minority tribes we have attacked tribal chiefs too strongly, thus injuring, instead of respecting, local customs and manners. . . . When reorganizing the party, we paid too much importance to the notion of social class instead of adhering firmly to political qualifications alone. Instead of recognizing education to be the first essential, we resorted exclusively to organizational measures such as disciplinary punishments, expulsion from the party, executions, dissolution of party branches and calls. Worse still, torture came to be regarded as a normal practice during party reorganization. That circumstances in North Vietnam were serious enough to warrant Giap's confiteor was proved by insurrection among Catholic peasants in November 1956,

Origins of tile Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 247 within two weeks of his speech, in which thousands more lives were lost. But the uprisings. though then and since used to validate the U.S.-backed GVN stand, were not foreseen in 1955 or 1956; the basis for the policy of both nations in rejecting the Geneva elections was, rather, convictions that Hanoi would not permit "free general elections by secret ballot," and that the ICC would be impotent in supervising the elections in any case. The deadlines for the consultations in July 1955, and the date set for elections in July 1956, passed without international action. The DRV repeatedly tried to engage the Geneva machinery, forwarding messages to the Government of South Vietnam in July 1955, May and June 1956, March 1958, JUly 1959, and July 1960, proposing consultations to negotiate "free general elections by secret ballot," and to liberalize North-South relations in general. Each time the GVN replied with disdain, or with silence. The 17th parallel, with its demilitarized zone on either side, became de facto an international boundary, and-since Ngo Dinh Diem's rigid refusal to traffic with the North excluded all economic exchanges and even an interstate postal agreement----one of the most restricted boundaries in the world. The DRV appealed to the UK and the USSR as cochairmen of the Geneva Conference to no avail. In January 1956, on DRV urging, Communist China requested another Geneva Conference to deal with the situation. But the Geneva Co-Chairmen, the USSR and the UK, responded only by extending the functions of the International Control Commission beyond its 1956 expiration date. By early 1957, partitioned Vietnam was a generally accepted modus vivendi throughout the international community. For instance, in January 1957, the Soviet Union proposed the admission of both the GVN and the DRV to the United Nations, the USSR delegate to the Security Council declaring that "in Vietnam two separate States existed, which differed from one another in political and economic structure. . . ." Thus, reunification through elections became as remote a prospect in Vietnam as in Korea or Germany. If the political mechanism for reunifying Vietnam in 1Q56 proved impractical, the blame lies at least in part with the Geneva conferees themselves, who postulated an ideal political settlement incompatible with the physical and psychological dismemberment of Vietnam they themselves undertook in July 1954. But partition was not, as the examples of Korea and Germany demonstrate, necessarily tantamount to renewed hostilities. The difference was that in Korea and Gennany international forces guarded the boundaries. In Vietnam, the withdrawal of the French Expeditionary Corps prior to the date set for elections in 1956 left South Vietnam defenseless except for such forces as it could train and equip with U.S. assistance. The vague extending of the SEATO aegis over Vietnam did not exert the same stabilizing influence as did NATO's Central Army Group in Germany, or the United Nations Command in Korea. Moreover, neither East Germany nor North Korea enjoyed the advantage of a politicomilitary substructure within the object of its irredentism, as the Viet Minh residue provided North Vietnam. The absence of deterrent force in South Vietnam invited forceful reunification; the southern Viet Minh regroupees in the North and their comrades in the South made it possible. Pursuant to the "regroupment" provisions of the Geneva Accords, some 190,000 troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, and 900,000 civilians moved from North Vietnam to South Vietnam; more than 100,000 Viet Minh soldiers and civilians moved from South to North. Both nations thereby acquired minorities with vital interests in the outcome of the Geneva Settlement. In both nations. the regroupees exerted an influence over subsequent events well out of proportion to their numbers.


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In North Vietnam. the DRV treated the southern regroupees from the outset as strategic assets-the young afforded special schooling. the able assigned to separate military units. The southerners in the North. and their relatives in the South. formed. with the remnants of the Viet Minh's covert network in South Vietnam. a means through which the DRV might "struggle" toward reunification regardless of Diem's obduracy or U.S. aid for South Vietnam. These people kept open the DRV's option to launch aggression without transcending a "civil war" of southerners against southerners-no doubt an important consideration with the United States as a potential antagonist. The evidence indicates that. at least through 1956. Hanoi did not expect to have to resort to force; thereafter. the regroupees occupied increasing prominence in D RV plans. For Diem's government. refugees from the North were important for three reasons: firstly, they provided the world the earliest convincing evidence of the undemocratic and oppressive nature of North Vietnam's regime. Though no doubt many migrants fled North Vietnam for vague or spurious reasons. it was plain that Ho's Viet Minh were widely and genuinely feared, and many refugees took flight in understandable terror. There were indications that the DRV forcefully obstructed the migration of other thousands who might also have left the North. In 1955 and 1956. the refugees were the most convincing support for Diem's argument that free elections were impossible in the DRV. Secondly. the refugees engaged the sympathies of the American people as few developments in Vietnam have before or since, and solidly underwrote the U.S. decision for unstinting support of Diem. The poignancy of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes and fortunes to escape communist tyranny. well journalized. evoked an outpouring of U.S. aid. governmental and private. The U.S. Navy was committed to succor the migrants. lifting over 300.000 persons in "Operation EXODUS" (in which Dr. Tom Dooley-then a naval officer-s-won fame). U.S. government-to-government aid, amounting to $100 per refugee. more than South Vietnam's annual income per capita. enabled Diem's government to provide homes and food for hundreds of thousands of the destitute. and American charities provided millions of dollars more for their relief. U.S. officials defending American aid programs could point with pride to the refugee episode to demonstrate the special eligibility of the Vietnamese for U.S. help. including an early. convincing demonstration that Diem's government could mount an effective program with U.S. aid. Thirdly, the predominantly Catholic Tonkinese refugees provided Diem with a claque: a politically malleable, culturally distinct group, wholly distrustful of Ho Chi Minh and the DRV. dependent for subsistence on Diem's government, and attracted to Diem as a co-religionist. Under Diem's mandarinal regime, they were less important as dependable votes than as a source of reliable political and military cadres. Most were kept unassimilated in their own communities. and became prime subjects for Diem's experiments with strategic population relocation. One heritage of Geneva is the present dominance of South Vietnam's government and army by northerners. The refugees catalyzed Diem's domestic p0litical rigidity. his high-handedness with the U.S.. and his unyielding rejection of the DRV and the Geneva Accords. The Geneva Settlement was further penalized by the early failure of the "International Supervisory Commission" established by the Agreement (Article 34) and cited in the Conference Declaration (Article 7). While a Joint Commission of French and Viet Minh military officers was set up to deal with the cease-fire and force regroupment, the International Commission for Supervision and Con-

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 249 trol (ICC). furnished by Poland. India. and Canada. was to oversee the Accords in general. Its inability to cope with violations of the Armistice in the handling of would-be migrants, vociferously proclaimed in both Saigon and Hanoi, impugned its competence to overwatch the general free elections, for which it was also to be responsible. Equally serious for the Settlement, the ICC was expected to control arms and guarantee against aggression. The armistice agreement signed by the French and the Viet Minh. and affirmed in the several declarations of the Geneva Conference. included four main provisions for arms control: ( 1) arms, bases. and armed forces were to be fixed at the level existing in Vietnam in July 1954. with allowance for replacement of worn or damaged equipment. and rotation of personnel; (2) further foreign influences were to be excluded, either in the form of alliances, or foreign military bases established in either North or South Vietnam; (3) neither party was to allow its zone to be used for the renewal of aggression; and. (4) all the foregoing were to be overseen by the ICC. As was the case of the regroupmcnt provisions, these arrangements operated in practice to the detriment of the political solution embodied in the Accords, for the ICC. the election guardian. was soon demonstrated 10 be impotent. The level of arms in Vietnam in 1954 was unascertainable. The Viet Minh had been surreptitiously armed. principally by the Chinese. from 1950 onward. That Viet Minh forces were acquiring large amount of relatively advanced weaponry was fully evident at Dien Bien Phu, but neither the DRV nor its allies owned to this military assistance. After the 1954 armistice. French. U.S.• and British intelligence indicated that the flow of arms into North Vietnam from China continued on a scale far in excess of "replacement" needs. Similarly. while U.S. military materiel had been provided to the French more openly. no one-neither the French. the Vietnamese. the U.S.• nor certainly the ICC-knew how much of this equipment was on hand and serviceable after 1954. The issue of arms levels was further complicated by regroupment, French withdrawals, and the revamping of the national army in South Vietnam. The ICC could determine to no one's satisfaction whether the DRV was within its rights to upgrade the armament of the irregulars it brought out of South Vietnam. Similarly. though the DRV charged repeatedly that the V.S. had no right to be in South Vietnam at all. the ICC had to face the fact that V.S. military advisors and trainers had been present in Vietnam since 1950 under a pentilateral agreement with Laos, Cambodia. Vietnam, and France. If France withdrew its cadres in Vietnamese units. could they not be "replaced" by Americans? And if the French were withdrawing both men and equipment in large quantities. did not Vietnam have a right under the Accords to replace them in kind with its own. Americanequipped formations? To DRV charges and GVN countercharges. it could reply with legalistic interpretations. but it found it virtually impossible to collect facts, or exercise more than vague influence over U.S.• GVN, or DRV policy. The only major example of U.S: ignoring the ICC was the instance of the U.S. Training and Equipment Recovery Mission (TERM). 350 men ostensibly deployed to Vietnam in 1956 to aid the Vietnamese in recovering equipment left by the French. but also directed to act as an extension of the existing MAAG by training Vietnamese in logistics. TERM was introduced without ICC sanction, although subsequently the ICC accepted its presence. The question of military bases was similarly occluded. The DRV protested repeatedly that the V.S. was transforming South Vietnam into a military base for the prosecution of aggression in Southeast Asia. In fact. as ICC investigation subsequently established, there was no wholly U.S. base anywhere in South


250 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. I Vietnam. It was evident. however. that the South Vietnamese government had made available to the U.S. some portions of existing air and naval facilitiese.g.• at Tan Son Nhut, Bien Hoa, and Nha Be-for the use of MAAG and TERM. ICC access to these facilities was restricted. and the ICC was never able to determine what the U.S. was shipping through them. either personnel or materiel. By the same token. ICC access to DRV airports. rail terminals. and seaports was severely limited. and its ability to confirm or deny allegations concerning the rearming of the People's Army of Vietnam correspondingly circumscribed. International apprehensions over arms levels and potential bases for aggression were heightened by statements anticipating South Vietnam's active participation in SEATO. or pronouncements of DRV SOlidarity with China and Russia. Not until 1959 and 1961 did the ICC publish reports attempting to answer directly DRV charges that the U.S. and South Vietnam were ftagrantly violating the arms control provisions of the Geneva Accords. Similarly. though in its Tenth and Eleventh Interim Reports (1960 and 1961) the ICC noted "the concern which the Republic of Vietnam has been expressing over the problem of subversion in South Vietnam." it did not mention that those expressions of concern had been continuous since 1954. or attempt to publish a factual study of that problem until June 1962. In both cases. the ICC was overtaken by events: by late 1960. international tensions were beyond any ability of the ICC to provide reassurances. and the U.S. was faced with the decision whether to commit major resources to the contlict in South Vietnam. The Geneva Settlement thus failed to provide lasting peace because it was. as U.S. National Security Council papers of 1956 and 1958 aptly termed it. "'only a truce:' It failed to settle the role of the U.S. or of the Saigon government. or. indeed, of France in Vietnam. It failed because it created two antagonist Vietnamese nations. It failed because the Geneva powers were unwilling or unable to concert follow-up action in Vietnam to supervise effectively observance of the Accords. or to dampen the mounting tension. Mutual distrust led to incremental violations by both sides. but on balance, though neither the United States nor South Vietnam was fuUy cooperative, and though both acted as they felt necessary to protect their interests. both considered themselves constrained by the Accords. There is no evidence that either deliberately undertook to breach the peace. In contrast. the DRV proceeded to mobilize its total societal resources scarcely without pause from the day the peace was signed, as though to substantiate the declaration of its Deputy Premier, Pham Van Dong. at the closing session of the Geneva Conference: We shall achieve unity. We shall achieve it just as we have won the war. No force in the world. internal or external. can make us deviate from our path . . . Diem's rejection of elections meant that reunification could be achieved in the foreseeable future only by resort to force. Diem's policy. and U.S. support of it, led inevitably to a test of strength with the DRV to determine whether the OVN~s cohesiveness. with U.S. support, could offset North Vietnam's drive to satisfy its unrequited nationalism and expansionism. REVOLT AGAINST MY-DIEM

By the time President Kennedy came to office in 1961, it was plain that support for the Saigon government among South Vietnam's peasants-90% of the

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 251 population-was weak and waning. The Manifesto of the National Liberation Front, published in December 1960, trumpeted the existence of a revolutionary organization which could channel popular discontent into a political program. Increasingly Diem's government proved inept in dealing either through its public administration with the sources of popular discontent, or through its security apparatus with the Viet Congo Diem's government and his party were by that time manifestly out of touch with the people. and into the gap between the government and the populace the Viet Cong had successfully driven. When and why this gap developed is crucial to an understanding of who the Viet Cong were, and to what extent they represented South as opposed to North Vietnamese interests. The U.S. Government, in its White Papers on Vietnam of 1961 and 1965, has blamed the insurgency on aggression by Hanoi, holding that the Viet Cong were always tools of the DRV. Critics of U.S. policy in Vietnam usually hold, to the contrary. that the war was started by South Vietnamese; their counterarguments rest on two propositions: (1) that the insurgency began as a rebellion against the oppressive and clumsy government of Ngo Dinh Diem; and (2) that only after it became clear. in late 1960, that the U.S. would commit massive resources to succor Diem in his internal war, was the DRV impelled to unleash the South Vietnamese Viet Minh veterans evacuated to North Vietnam after Geneva. French analysts have long been advancing such interpretations; American protagonists for them often quote, for example, Philippe Devillers, who wrote in 1962 that: . . . In 1959. responsible elements of the Communist Resistance in IndoChina came to the conclusion that they had to act, whether Hanoi wanted them to or no. They could no longer continue to stand by while their supporters were arrested, thrown into prison and tortured. without attempting to do anything about it as an organization. without giving some lead to the people in the struggle in which it was to be involved. Hanoi preferred diplomatic notes, but it was to find that its hand had been forced. Devi1lers related how in March 1960 the "Nambo Veterans of the Resistance Association" issued a declaration appealing for "struggle" to "liberate themselves from submission to America. eliminate all U.S. bases in South Vietnam, expel American military advisors . . ..' and to end "the colonial regime and the fascist dictatorship of the Ngo family:' Shortly thereafter. according to Devillers, a People's Liberation Army appeared in Cochinchina and: From this time forward it carried on incessant guerrilla operations against Diem's forces. It was thus by its home policy that the government of the South finally destroyed the confidence of the population. which it had won during the early years. and practically drove them into revolt and desperation. The non-Communist (and even the anti-Communist) opposition had long been aware of the turn events were taking. But at the beginning of 1960 very many elements, both civilian and military. in the Nationalist camp came to a clear realization that things were moving from bad to worse, and that if nothing were done to put an end to the absolute power of Diem. then Communism would end up by gaining power with the aid, or at least with the consent, of the population. If they did not want to allow the Communists


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to make capital out of the revolt. then they would have to oppose Diem actively. . . . Based on a similar analysis. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., held that: Diem's authoritarianism, which increasingly involved manhunts, p0litical reeducation camps, and the "regroupment" of population, caused spreading discontent and then armed resistance on the countryside. It is not easy to disentangle the events of these murky years; but few scholars believe that the growing resistance was at the start organized or directed by Hanoi. Indeed, there is some indication that the Communists at first hung back . . . it was not until September, 1960 that the Communist Party of North Vietnam bestowed its formal blessing and called for the liberation of the south from American imperialism. Events in Vietnam in the years 1954 to 1960 were indeed murky. The Diem government controlled the press tightly, and discouraged realism in reports from its provincial bureaucracy. Even official U.S. estimates were handicapped by reliance upon GVN sources for inputs from the grass roots of Vietnamese society, the rural villages, since the U.S. advisory effort was then largely confined to top levels of the GVN and its armed forces. But enough evidence has now accumulated to establish that peasant resentment against Diem was extensive and well founded. Moreover, it is clear that dislike of the Diem government was coupled with resentment toward Americans. For many Vietnamese peasants. the War of Resistance against French-Bao Dai rule never ended; France was merely replaced by the U.S.• and Bao Dai's mantle was transferred to Ngo Dinh Diem. The Viet Cong's opprobrious catchword "My-Diem" (American-Diem) thus recaptured the nationalist mystique of the First Indochina War, and combined the natural xenophobia of the rural Vietnamese with their mounting dislike of Diem. But Viet Cong slogans aside, in the eyes of many Vietnamese of no particular political persuasion, the United States was reprehensible as a modernizing force in a thoroughly traditional society, as the provider of arms and money for a detested government, and as an alien, disruptive influence upon hopes they held for the Geneva Settlement. As far as attitudes toward Diem were concerned, the prevalence of his picture throughout Vietnam virtually assured his being accepted as the sponsor of the frequently corrupt and cruel local officials of the GVN, and the perpetrator of unpopular GVN programs. especially the population relocation schemes, and the "Communist Denunciation Campaign." Altogether, Diem promised the farmers much. delivered little. and raised not only their expectations, but their fears. It should be recognized, however, that whatever his people thought of him, Ngo Dinh Diem really did accomplish miracles, just as his American boosters said he did. He took power in 1954 amid political chaos, and within ten months surmounted attempted coups d'etat from within his army and rebellions by disparate irregulars. He consolidated his regime while providing creditably for an Influx of nearly one million destitute refugees from North Vietnam; and he did all of this despite active French opposition and vacillating American support. Under his leadership South Vietnam became well established as a sovereign state. by 1955 recognized de jure by 36 other nations. Moreover, by mid-1955 Diem secured the strong backing of the U.S. He conducted a plebiscite in late 1955, in which an overwhelming vote was recorded for him in preference to Bao Dai; during 1956. he installed a government-representative in form. at least-drafted a new constitution, and extended GVN control to regions that

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


had been under sect or Viet Minh rule for a decade; and he pledged to initiate extensive reforms in land holding, public health, and education. With American help, he established a truly national, modern army, and formed rural security forces to police the countryside. In accomplishing all the foregoing, he confounded those Vietnamese of North and South, and those French, who had looked for his imminent downfall. While it is true that his reforms entailed oppressive measures--e.g., his "political reeducation centers" were in fact little more than concentration camps for potential foes of the government-his regime compared favorably with other Asian governments of the same period in its respect for the person and property of citizens. There is much that can be offered in mitigation of Diem's authoritarianism. He began as the most singularly disadvantaged head of state of his era. His political legacy was endemic violence and virulent anti-colonialism. He took office at a time when the government of Vietnam controlled only a few blocks of downtown Saigon; the rest of the capital was the feudal fief of the Binh Xuyen gangster fraternity. Beyond the environs of Saigon, South Vietnam lay divided among the Viet Minh enclaves and the theocratic dominions of the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao sects. All these powers would have opposed any Saigon government, whatever its composition; in fact, their existence accounts for much of the confidence the DRV then exhibited toward the outcome of the Geneva Settlement. For Diem to have erected any central government in South Vietnam without reckoning resolutely with their several armed forces and clandestine organizations would have been impossible: they were the very stuff of South Vietnam's politics. Diem's initial political tests reinforced his propensity to inflexibility. The lessons of his first 10 months of rule must have underscored to Diem the value of swift, tough action against dissent, and of demanding absolute personal loyalty of top officials. Also, by May 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem had demonstrated to his satisfaction that the U.S. was sufficiently committed to South Vietnam that he could afford on occasion to resist American pressure, and even to ignore American advice. Diem knew, as surely as did the United States, that he himself represented the only alternative to a communist South Vietnam. Diem was handicapped in all his attempts to build a nation by his political concepts. He had the extravagant expectations of a Rousseau, and he acted with the zeal of a Spanish Inquisitor. Despite extensive travel and education in the West, and despite his revolutionary mien, he remained what he had been raised: a mandarin of Imperial Hue, steeped in filial piety, devoted to Vietnam's past, modern only to the extent of an intense, conservative Catholicism. The political apparatus he created to extend his power and implement his programs reflected his background, personality, and experience: a rigidly organized. over-centralized familial oligarchy. Though his brothers, Ngo Dinh Nhu and N go Dinh Can, created extensive personal political organizations of considerable power-Nhu's semi-covert Can Lao party borrowed heavily from communist doctrine and technique-and though a third brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc, was the ranking Catholic bishop, in no sense did they or Diem ever acquire a broad popular base for his government. Diem's personality and his political methods practically assured that he would remain distant, virtually isolated from the peasantry. They also seem to have predetermined that Diem's political history over the long-run would be a chronicle of disaffection: Diem alienated one after another of the key groups within South Vietnam's society until, by late 1960, his regime rested on the narrow and disintegrating base of its own bureaucracy and the northern refugees.

254 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1 Such need not have been the case. At least through 1957. Diem and his government enjoyed marked success with fairly sophisticated pacification programs in the countryside. In fact. Diem at first was warmly welcomed in some former Viet Minh domains. and it is probable that a more sensitive and adroit leader could have captured and held a significant rural following. Even the failure of the Geneva Accords to eventuate in general elections in 1956 at first had little impact upon GVN pacification. The strident declamations of the DRV notwithstanding. reunification of partitioned Vietnam was not at first a vital political issue for South Vietnam's peasants. By and large. as late as 1961 as Devillers pointed out: For the people of the South reunification is not an essential problem. Peace. security. freedom. their standard of living. the agrarian questionthese are far more important questions to them. The stronghold of the sects over certain regions remains one of the factors of the situation. as is also. in a general fashion. the distrustful attitude of the Southerner towards the Northerner. who is suspected of a tendency to want to take charge of affairs. The initial GVN pacification effort combined promises of governmental level reforms with 路路civic action" in the hamlets and villages. The latter was carried out by "cadre" clad in black pajamas. implementing the Maoist "three-withs" doctrine (eat with. sleep with, work with the people) to initiate rudimentary improvements in public health. education. and local government. and to propagandize the promises of the central government. Unfortunately for Diem, his civic action teams had to be drawn from the northern refugees. and encountered Cochinchinese-Tonkinese tensions. More importantly. however. they incurred the enmity of the several Saigon ministries upon whose field responsibilities they impinged. Moreover. they became preoccupied with Diem's anti-communist campaign to the detriment of their social service. By the end of 1956, the civic action component of the GVN pacification program had been cut back severely. But the salesmen were less at fault than their product. Diem's reform package compared unfavorably even in theory with what the Viet Minh had done by way of rural reform. Diem undertook to: (l) resettle refugees and other land destitute Vietnamese on uncultivated land beginning in 1955; (2) expropriate all rice land holdings over 247 acres and redistribute these to tenant farmers beginning in 1956; and (3) regulate landlord-tenant relations beginning in 1957 to fix. rents within the range 15-25% of crop yield. and to guarantee tenant land tenure for 3-5 years. Despite invidious comparison with Viet Minh rent-free land. had these programs been honestly and efficiently implemented. they might have satisfied the land-hunger of the peasants. But they suffered, as one American expert put it from "Iack of serious, interested administrators and top side command," Government officials, beginning with the Minister for Agrarian Reform. had divided loyalties, being themselves land holders. Moreover. the programs often operated to replace paternalistic landlords with competitive bidding. and thus increased. rather than decreased. tenant insecurity. And even if all Diem's goals had been honestly fulfilled-which they were notonly 20% of the rice land would have passed from large to small farmers. As it turned out, only 10% of all tenant farmers benefited in any sense. By 1959. the land reform program was virtually inoperative. As of 1960. 45% of the land remained concentrated in the hands of 2% of landowners, and 15% of the landlords owned 75% of all the land. Those relatively few farmers who did

Origins of the Insurgency in South 'Vietnam. 1954-1960


benefit from the program were more often than not northerners. refugees, Catholics. or Annamese-so that land reform added to the GVN's aura of favoritism which deepened peasant alienation in Cochinchina. Farmer-GVN tensions were further aggravated by rumors of corruption. and the widespread allegation that the Diem family itself had become enriched through the manipulation of land transfers. Diem's whole rural policy furnishes one example after another of political maladroitness. In June 1956. Diem abolished elections for village councils, apparently out of concern that large numbers of Viet Minh might win office. By replacing the village notables with GVN appointed offici~ Diem swept away the traditional administrative autonomy of the village officials. and took upon himself and his government the onus for whatever corruption and injustice subsequently developed at that level. Again. the GVN appointees to village office were outsiders-e-nerthemers, Catholics, or other "dependable" persons-and their alien presence in the midst of the close-knit rural communities encouraged revival of the conspiratorial. underground politics to which the villages had become accustomed during the resistance against the French. But conspiracy was almost a natural defense after Diem launched his Denunciation of Communists Campaign. which included a scheme for classifying the populace into lettered political groups according to their connections with the Viet Minh. This campaign. which featured public confessions reminiscent of the "people's courts" of China and North Vietnam. invited neighbors to inform on each other. and raised further the premium on clandestine political activity. In 1956. the GVN disclosed that some 15-20.000 communists had been detained in its "political reeducation centers," while Devillers put the figure at 50,000. By GVN figures in 1960. nearly 50,000 had been detained. A British expert on Vietnam. P. J. Honey, who was invited by Diem to investigate the reeducation centers in 1959, concluded that, after interviewing a number of rural Vietnamese, "the consensus of the opinion expressed by these peoples is that . . . the majority of the detainees are neither communists nor pro-communists." Between 1956 and 1960, the GVN claimed that over 100,000 former communist cadres rallied to the GVN, and thousands of other communist agents had surrendered or had been captured. The campaign also allegedly netted over 100,000 weapons and 3,000 arms caches. Whatever it contributed to GVN internal security, however. the Communist Denunciation Campaign thoroughly terrified the Vietnamese peasants, and detracted significantly from the regime's popularity. Diem's nearly paranoid preoccupation with security influenced his population relocation schemes. Even the refugee relief programs had been executed with an eye to building a "living wall" between the lowland centers of population and the jungle and mountain redoubts of dissidents. Between April 1957 and late 1961, the GVN reported that over 200.000 persons--refugees and landless families from coastal Annam-were resettled in 147 centers carved from 220,000 acres of wilderness. These "strategic" settlements were expensive: although they affected only 2% of South Vietnam's people. they absorbed 50% of U.S. aid for agriculture. They also precipitated unexpected political reactions from the Montagnard peoples of the Highlands. In the long run. by introducing ethnic Vietnamese into traditionally Montagnard areas, and then by concentrating Montagnards into defensible communities. the GVN provided the tribes with a cause and focused their discontent against Diem. The GVN thus facilitated rather than hindered the subsequent subversion of the tribes by the Viet Congo But of all Diem's relocation experiments, that which occasioned the most

256 G,avel Edition/The Pentagon Pape,s/Vol. 1 widespread and vehement anti-GVN sentiment was the "agrovdle" program begun in mid-1959. At first. the GVN tried to establish rural communities which segregated families with known Viet Cong or Viet Minh connections from other citizens. but the public outcry caused this approach to be dropped. A few months later. the GVN announced its intent to build 80 "prosperity and density centers" along a "strategic route system:路 By the end of 1963. each of these 80 agroviDes was to hold some 400 families. and each would have a group of satellite agrovilles of 120 families each. In theory. the agroville master plan was attractive: there were provisions for community defense. schools. dispensary. market center. public garden. and even electricity. Despite these advantages. however. the whole program incurred the wrath of the peasants. They resented the corvee labor the GVN resorted to for agroville construction. and they abhorred abandoning their cherished ancestral homes. tombs, and developed gardens and fields for a strange and desolate community. Passive peasant resistance. and then insurgent attacks on the agrovilles, caused abandonment of the program in early 1961 when it was less than 25% complete. Yet. for all Diem's preoccupation with rural security. he poorly provided for police and intelligence in the countryside. Most of the American aid the GVN received was used for security. and the bulk of it was lavished on the Army of Vietnam. Security in the villages was relegated to the Self-Defense Corps (SOC) and the Civil Guard (CG)-poorly trained and equipped. miserably led. They could scarcely defend themselves. much less secure the farmers. Indeed. they proved to be an asset to insurgents in two ways: they served as a source of weapons; and their brutality. petty thievery. and disorderliness induced innumerable villagers to join in open revolt against the GVN. The Army of Vietnam. after 1956. was withdrawn from the rural regions to undergo reorganization and modernization under its American advisors. Its interaction with the rural populace through 1959 was relatively slight. The SOC and CG. placed at the disposal of the provincial administrators. were often no more venal nor offensive to the peasants than the local officials themselves. but the corrupt. arrogant and overbearing men the people knew as the GVN were among the greatest disadvantages Diem faced in his rural efforts. Nor was Ngo Dinh Diem successful in exercising effective leadership over the Vietnamese urban population or its intellectuals. Just as Diem and his brothers made the mistake of considering all former Viet Minh communists. they erred in condemning all non-Diemist nationalists as tools of Bao Dai or the French. The Diem family acted to circumscribe aU political activity and even criticism not sanctioned by the oligarchy. In late 1957, newspapers critical of the regime began to be harassed, and in March 1958. after a caustic editorial. the GVN closed down the largest newspaper in Saigon. Attempts to form opposition political parties for participation in the national assembly met vague threats and bureaucratic impediments. In 1958, opposition politicians risked arrest for assaying to form parties unauthorized by Nhu or Can. and by 1959 all opposition political activity had come to a halt. In the spring of 1960. however. a group of non-communist nationalist leaders came together-with more courage than prudenee--to issue the Caravelle Manifesto, a recital of grievances against the Diem regime. Eleven of the 18 signers had been cabinet members under Diem or Bao Dai; 4 had been in other high government positions. and others represented religious groups. Their manifesto lauded Diem for the progress that he had made in the aftermath of Geneva. but pointed out that his repressions in recent years had "provoked the discouragement and resentment of the people.n They noted that "the size of the territory has shrunk. but the num-

Origins 01 the Insurgency in South 'Vietnam, 1954-1960 257 her of civil servants has increased and still the work doesn't get done"; they applauded the fact that 4~e French Expeditionary Corps has left the country and a Republican Army has been constituted. thanks to American aid," but deplored the fact that the Diem intluence "divides the men of one and the same unit, sows distrust between friends of the same rank, and uses as a criterion for promotion fidelity to the party in blind submission to its leaders"; they described. despairingly, 44a rich and fertile country enjoying food surpluses" where "at the present time many people are out of work, have no roof over their heads, and no money." They went on to "beseech the government to urgently modify its policies." While the Caravelle Manifesto thoroughly frigbtened Diem, coming, as it did, three days after Syngman Rhee was overthrown in Korea, it prompted him only to further measures to quell the loyal opposition. By the fall of 1960, the intellectual elite of South Vietnam was politically mute; labor unions were impotent; loyal opposition in the fonn of organized parties did not exist. In brief, Diem's policies virtually assured that political challenges to him would have to be extra-legal. Ultimately, these emerged from the traditional sources of power in South Vietnam-the armed forces, the religious sects, and the armed peasantry. Through 1960, the only serious threats to Diem from inside the GVN were attempted military coups d'etat. In his first 10 months in office, Diem had identified loyalty in his top army commanders as a sine qua non for his survival. Thereafter he took a personal interest in the positioning and promoting of officers, and even in matters of military strategy and tactics. Many of Vietnam's soldiers found Diem"s attentions a means to political power, wealth, and social prominence. Many others, however, resented those who rose by favoritism, and objected to Diem's interference in military matters. In November 1960, a serious coup attempt was supported by three elite paratroop battalions in Saigon, but otherwise failed to attract support. In the wake of the coup, mass arrests took place in which the Caravelle Group, among others, were jailed. In February 1962, two Vietnamese air force planes bombed the presidential palace in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Diem and the Nhus. Again, there was little apparent willingness among military officers for concerted action against Diem. But the abortive attempts of 1960 and 1962 had the effect of dramatizing the choices open to those military officers who recognized the insolvency of Diem's political and military policies. Diem"s handling of his military impinged in two ways on his rural policy. Diem involved himself with the equipping of his military forces showing a distinct proclivity toward heavy military forces of the conventional type. He wanted the Civil Guard equipped very much like his regular army-possibly with a view to assuring himself a check on army power. There were a few soldiers. like General Duong Van Minh, who sharply disagreed with the President on this point. Nonetheless. Diem persisted. His increasing concern for the loyalty of key officials, moreover, led him to draw upon the military officer corps for civil administrators. From 1956 on his police apparatus was under military officers, and year by year, more of the provincial governments were also placed under military men. By 1958, about ~ of the province chiefs were military officers; by 1960, that fraction had increased to nearly %; by 1962, 78 of all provinces were headed by soldiers. Diem"s bete noire was communism, and he appealed to threats from communists to justify his concentration on internal security. In August 1956, GVN Ordinance 47 defined being a communist, or working for them, as a capital crime. In May 1959, by GVN Law 10/59, the enforcement of Ordinance 47


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Yolo 1

was charged to special military tribunals from whose decisions there was no appeal. But "communist" was a term not used by members of the MantistLeninist Party headed by Ho Chi Minh, or its southern arms. Beginning in 1956, the Saigon press began to refer to "Viet Cong,n a fairly precise and not necessarily disparaging rendition of "Vietnamese Communist:' There is little doubt that Diem and his government applied the term Viet Cong somewhat loosely within South Vietnam to mean all persons or groups who resorted to clandestine political activity or armed opposition against his government; and the GVN meant by the term North as well as South Vietnamese communists, who they presumed acted in concert. At the close of the Franco-Viet Minh War in 1954, some 60.000 men were serving in organized Viet Minh units in South Vietnam. For the regroupments to North Vietnam, these units were augmented with large numbers of young recruits; a reported 90,000 armed men were taken to North Vietnam in the regroupment, while the U.S. and the GVN estimated that from 5-10,000 trained men were left behind as "cadre:' If French estimates are correct that in 1954 the Viet Minh controlled over 60-90% of rural South Vietnam outside the sect domains, these 5-10,000 stay-behinds must have represented only a fraction of the Viet Minh residue, to which GVN figures on recanting and detained communists in the years through 1960 attest. From studies of defectors, prisoners of war. and captured documents, it is now possible to assess armed resistance against Diem much better than the facts available at the time permitted. Three distinct periods are discernible. From 1954 through 1957. there was a substantial amount of random dissidence in the countryside. which Diem succeeded in queUing. In early 1957, Vietnam seemed to be enjoying the first peace it had known in over a decade. Beginning, however. in mid-1957 and intensifying through mid-1959, incidents of violence attributed to Viet Cong began to occur in the countryside. While much of this violence appeared to have a political motive, and while there is some evidence that it was part of a concerted strategy of guerrilla base development in accordance with sound Mao-Giap doctrine, the GVN did not construe it as a campaign, considering the disorders too diffuse to warrant committing major OVN resources. In early 1959. however. Diem perceived that he was under serious attack and reacted strongly. Population relocation was revivified. The Army of Vietnam was committed against the dissidents, and the Communist Denunciation Campaign was reinvigorated. By autumn 1959, however, the VC were in a position to field units of battalion size against regular army formations. By 1960. VC could operate in sufficient strength to seize provincial capitals for periods ranging up to 24 hours, overrun ARVN posts, and cut off entire districts from communication with the GVN-controlled towns. Diem's countermeasures increasingly met with peasant obstructionism and outright hostility. A U.S. Embassy estimate of the situation in January 1960 noted that: While the GVN has made an effort to meet the economic and social needs of the rural populations . . . these projects appear to have enjoyed only a measure of success in creating support for the government and. in fact, in many instances have resulted in resentment . . . the situation may be summed up in the fact that the government has tended to treat the population with suspicion or to coerce it and has been rewarded with an attitude of apathy or resentment.

In December 1960~ the National Liberation Front of SVN (NLF) was formally organized. From its inception it was designed to encompass all anti-

Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vlemam; 1954-1960 259 GVN activists, including communists, and it formulated and articulated objectives for all those opposed to ""My-Diem." The NLF placed heavy emphasis on the withdrawal of American advisors and inftuence, on land reform and libera1ization of the GVN, on coalition government and the neutralization of Vietnam; but through 1963, the NLF soft-pedalled references to i'eunification of Vietnam. The NLF leadership was a shadowy crew of relatively obscure South Vietnamese. Despite their apparent lack of experience and competence, however, the NLF rapidly took on organizational reality from its central committee, down through a web of subordinate and associated groups, to villages all over South Vietnam. Within a few months of its founding, its membership doubled, doubled again by fall 1961, and then redoubled by early 1962. At that time an estimated 300,000 were on its rolls. Numerous administrative and functional "liberation associations" sprang into being, and each member of the NLF normally belong simultaneously to several such organizations. The key operational components of the NLF were. however, the Liberation Army and the People's Revolutionary Party. The former had a lien on the services of every NLF member, man. woman, or child. although functionally its missions were usually carried out by formally organized military units. The People's Revolutionary Party was explicitly the "Marxist-Leninist Party of South Vietnam" and claimed to be the "vanguard of the NLF. the paramount member:' It denied official links with the communist party of North Vietnam beyond "fraternal ties of communism." Although the PRP did not come into existence until 1962. it is evident that communists played a paramount role in forming the NLF. and in its rapid initial growth. The official U.S. view has been that the PRP is merely the southern arm of the DRY's communist party, and a principal instrument through which Hanoi instigated and controlled the revolt against "My-Diem:' The organizational genius evident in the NLF, as well as the testimony of Vietnamese communists in interrogations and captured documents supports this interpretation. But significant doubt remains. Viet Minh stay-behinds testified in 1955 and 1956 that their mission was political agitation for the holding of the general elections promised at Geneva. Captured documents and prisoner interrogations indicate that in 1957 and 1958, although there was some "wildcat" activity by local communists, party efforts appeared to be devoted to the careful construction of an underground apparatus which, though it used assassinations and kidnapping, circumspectly avoided military operations. All evidence points to fall of 1959 as the period in which the Viet Cong made their transition from a clandestine political movement to a more overt military operation. Moreover, throughout the years 1954-1960, a "front" seems to have been active in Vietnam. For example, the periodic report submitted by USMAAG. Vietnam. on 15 July 1957-a time of ostensible internal peace--noted that: The Viet Cong guerrillas and propagandists, however, are still waging a grim battle for survival. In addition to an accelerated propaganda campaign. the Communists have been forming "front" organizations to influence portions of anti-government minorities. Some of these organizations are militant, some are political. An example of the former is the "Vietnamese Peoples' Liberation Movement Forces," a military unit composed of ex.-Cao Dai, ex-Hoa Hao, ex-Binh Xuyen, escaped political prisoners, and Viet Cong cadres. An example of the latter is the "Vietnam-Cambodian Buddhist Association," one of several organizations seeking to spread the theory of "Peace and Co-existence:'


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. I

Whether early references to the "front" were to the organizations which subsequently matured as the NLF cannot be determined. Indeed, to shed further light on the truth or falsehood of the proposition that the DRV did not intervene in South Vietnam until after the NLF came into existence, it is necessary to turn to the events in North Vietnam during the years 1954-1960. HANOI AND THE INSURGENCY IN SOUTH VIETNAM

The primary question concerning Hanoi's role in the origins of the insurgency is not so much whether it played a role or not-the evidence of direct North Vietnamese participation in subversion against the Government of South Vietnam is now extensive-but when Hanoi intervened in a systematic way. Most attacks on U.S. policy have been based on the proposition that the DRV move on the South came with manifest reluctance, and after massive U.S. intervention in 1961. For example, George McTurnin Kahin and John W. Lewis, in their book The United Stales in Vietnam. state that: Contrary to United States policy assumptions, all available evidence shows that the revival of the civil war in the South in 1958 was undertaken by Southerners at their own-not Hanoi's-initiative. . . . Insurgency activity against the Saigon government began in the South under Southern leadership not as a consequence of any dictate from Hanoi, but contrary to Hanoi's injunctions. As discussed above, so much of this argument as rests on the existence in South Vietnam of genuine rebellion is probably valid. The South Vietnamese had both the means, the Viet Minh residue, and motive to take up arms against Ngo Dinh Diem. Moreover, there were indications that some DRV leaders did attempt to hold back southern rebels on the grounds that "conditions" were not ripe for an uprising. Further, there was apparently division within the Lao Dong Party hierarchy over the question of strategy and tactics in South Vietnam. However, the evidence indicates that the principal strategic debate over this issue took place between 1956 and 1958; aU information now available (spring, 1968) points to a decision taken by the DRV leaders not later than spring, 1959, actively to seek the overthrow of Diem. Thereafter, the DRV pressed toward that goal by military force and by subversive aggression, both in Laos and in South Vietnam. But few Administration critics have had access to the classified information upon which the foregoing judgments are based. Such intelligence as the U.S. has been able to make available to the public bearing on the period 1954-1960 has been sketchy and not very convincing: a few captured documents, and a few prisoner interrogations. Indeed, up until 1961 the Administration itself publicly held that Ngo Dinh Diem was firmly in control in South Vietnam, and that the United States aid programs were succeeding in meeting such threat to GVN security as existed both within South Vietnam and from the North. Too, the vigorous publicizing of "wars of national liberation" by N. S. Khrushchev and the "discovery" of counterinsurgency by the Kennedy Administration in early 1961 tended to reinforce the overall public impression that North Vietnam's aggression was news in that year. Khrushchev's speech of 6 January 1961, made, according to Kennedy biographer Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "a conspicuous impression on the new President, who took it as an authoritative exposition of Soviet intentions, discussed it with his staff and read excerpts from it aloud to the National Security Council." Thereafter, Administration leaders, by their fre-

Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


quently identifying that Khrushchev declamation as a milestone in the development of communist world strategy, lent credence to the supposition that the Soviet Union had approved aggression by its satellite in North Vietnam only in December 196Q--the month the NLF was formed. American Kremlinologists had been preoccupied, since Khrushchev's "de-Stalinization" speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956, with the possibilities of a genuine detente with the USSR. They were also bemused by the prospect of a deep strategic division with the "Communist Bloc" between the Soviets and the Chinese. Yet, despite evidences of disunity in the Bloc-in Yugoslavia, Albania, Hungary, Poland, and East Germany-virtually all experts regarded North Vietnamese national strategy, to the extent that they considered it at all. as a simple derivative of that of either the USSR or the CPR. P. J. Honey, the British authority on North Vietnam, tends to the view that Hanoi remained subservient to the dictates of Moscow from 1956 through 1961, albeit carefully paying lip service to continue solidarity with Peking. More recently. a differing interpretation has been offered. which holds that the Hanoi leaders were in those years motivated primarily by their concern for internal development. and that they, therefore, turned to the Soviet Union as the only nation willing and able to furnish the wherewithal for rapid economic advancement. Both interpretations assume that through 1960 the DRV followed the Soviet line. accepted "peaceful coexistence," concentrated on internal development. and took action in South Vietnam only after Moscow gave the go-ahead in late 1960. But it is also possible that the colloquy over strategy among the communist nations in the late 1950's followed a pattern almost exactly the reverse of that usually depicted: that North Vietnam persuaded the Soviets and the Chinese to accept its strategic view. and to support simultaneous drives for economic advancement and forceful reunification. Ho Chi Minh was an old Stalinist, trained in Russia in the early '20's, Comintern colleague of Borodin in Canton, and for three decades leading exponent of the Marxist-Leninist canon on anti-colonial war. Presumably, Ho spoke with authority within the upper echelons of the communist party of the Soviet Union. What he said to them privately was, no doubt, quite similar to what he proclaimed publicly from 1956 onward: the circumstances of North Vietnam were not comparable to those of the Soviet Union, or even those of the CPR. and North Vietnam's policy had to reflect the differences. Khrushchev's de-Stalinization bombshell burst in February 1956 at a dramatically bad time for the DRV. It overrode the Chinese call for reconvening of the Geneva Conference on Vietnam. and it interfered with the concerting of communist policy on what to do about Diem regime's refusal to proceed toward the general elections. Although the Soviets issued in March 1956 a demand for GVN observance of the Accords, its diplomacy not only failed to bring about any action on behalf of the DRV. but elicited, in April 1956, a sharp British note condemning Hanoi for grave violations of the Accords. Hanoi received the British note about the time that Khrushchev proclaimed that the Soviet was committed to a policy of "peaceful coexistence." At the Ninth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party, held in Hanoi that month, Ho Chi Minh lauded "de-Stalmization," but unequivocally rejected "peaceful coexistence" as irrelevant to the DRV. In November 1957, after more than a year of upheavals and evident internal political distress in North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan journeyed to Moscow for the Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries. That conference issued a declaration


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1

admitting the possibility of "non-peaceful transition to socialism" remarkably similar in thrust to Ho's 1956 speech. Further, Khrushchev's famous January 1961 speech was simply a precis of the Declaration of the November 1960 Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries. That 1960 Declaration, which formed the basis for Khrushchev's pronouncements on wars of national liberation in turn explicitly reaffirmed the 1957 Declaration. Other evidence supports the foregoing hypothesis. The DRV was, in 1960, an orthodoxically constituted communist state. Both the government and the society were dominated by the Lao Dong (Communist) Party, and power within the party concentrated in a small elite-Ho Chi Minh and his lieutenants from the old-time Indochinese Communist Party. This group of leaders were unique in the communist world for their homogeneity and for their harmony-there has been little evidence of the kind of turbulence which has splintered the leadership of most communist parties. While experts have detected disputes within the Lao Dong hierarchy-1957 appears to be a critical year in that regardthe facts are that there has been no blood-purge of the Lao Dong leadership, and except for changes occasioned by apparently natural deaths, the leadership in 1960 was virtually identical to what it had been in 1954 or 1946. This remarkably dedicated and purposeful group of men apparently agreed among themselves as to what the national interests of the DRV required, what goals should be set for the nation, and what strategy they should pursue in attaining them. These leaders have been explicit in setting forth DRV national goals in their public statements and official documents. For example, Ho Chi Minh and his colleagues placed a premium on "land reform"-by which they meant a communization of rural society along Maoist lines. Moreover, they clearly considered a disciplined society essential for victory in war and success in peace. It was also evident that they were committed to bring about an independent, reunified Vietnam capable of exerting significant influence throughout Southeast Asia, and particularly over the neighboring states of Laos and Cambodia. What is not known with certainty is how they determined the relative priority among these objectives. In the immediate aftermath of Geneva, the DRV deferred to the Geneva Accords for the achievement of reunification, and turned inward, concentrating its energies on land reform and rehabilitation of the war-tom economy. By the summer of 1956, this strategy was bankrupt: the Geneva Settlement manifestly would not eventuate in reunification, and the land reform campaign foundered from such serious abuses by Lao Dong cadre that popular disaffection imperiled DRV internal security. In August 1956, the Lao Dong leadership was compelled to "rectify" its programs, to postpone land reform, and to purge low echelon cadre to mollify popular resentment. Even these measures, however, proved insufficient to forestall insurrection; in November 1956, the peasant rebellions broke out, followed by urban unrest. Nonetheless, the DRV leadership survived these internal crises intact, and by 1958 appears to have solved most of the problems of economic efficiency and political organization which occasioned the 1956-1957 outbursts. But domestic difficulty was not the only crisis to confront the Lao Dong leaders in early 1957. In January, when the Soviet Union proposed to the United Nations the admitting of North and South Vietnam as separate states, it signaller. that the USSR might be prepared in the interests of "peaceful coexistence,:'. to make a great power deal which would have lent permanency to the partition of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, in evident surprise, violently dissented. When in February 1957 Khrushchev went further in affirming his intention to "coexist"

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


with the United States, the DRV quickly moved to realign its own and Soviet policies. In May 1951~ the Soviet head of state, Voroshilov~ visited Hanoi, and in July and August 1957~ Ho Chi Minh traveled extensively in Eastern Burope, spending several days in Moscow. The Voroshilov visit was given top billing by the Hanoi Press and Ho, upon his return from Moscow~ indicated that important decisions had been reached. Thereafter, Hanoi and Moscow marched more in step. In the meantime, the needs and desires of communist rebels in South Vietnam had been communicated directly to Hanoi in the person of Le Duan, who is known to have been in South Vietnam in 1955 and 1956~ and to have returned to Hanoi sometime before the fall of 1957. In September of that year. upon Ho's return from Europe, Le Duan surfaced as one of the members of the Lao Dong Politburo; it is possible that he was already at that time de facto the First Secretary of the Lao Dong Party, to which position he was formally promoted in September 1960. In 1955 and 1956~ Le Doan, from the testimony of prisoners and captured documents. had been expressing .conviction that Diem would stamp out the communist movement in South Vietnam unless the DRV were to reinforce the party there. Presumably, he carried these views into the inner councils of the DRV. In November 1957~ Le Duan and Ho traveled to Moscow to attend the Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries. The Declaration of that conference, quoted above, has since been cited repeatedly by both North and South Vietnamese communists, as one of the strategic turning points in their modem history. Le Duan, upon his return to Hanoi from Moscow, issued a statement to the effect that the DRY's way was now clear. Taking Le Duan literally. it could be construed that the DRV deemed the Moscow Declaration of 1951 the "go ahead" signal from Moscow and Peking for forceful pursuit of its objectives. There is some sparse evidence that the DRV actually did begin moving in 1958 to set up a mechanism for supporting the insurgency in South Vietnam. But even had the decision been taken, as suggested above. in late 1957, it is unlikely that there would have been much manifestation of it in 1958. The Lao Dong leadership had for years stressed the lessons that they had learned from experience on the essentiality of carefully preparing a party infrastructure and building guerrilla bases before proceeding with an insurgency. Viet Minh doctrine would have dictated priority concern to refurbishing the communist party apparatus in South Vietnam, and it is possible that such a process was set in motion during 1958. Orders were captured from Hanoi which directed guerrilla bases be prepared in South Vietnam in early 1959. There is, however, other evidence that questioning among the DRV hierarchy concerning strategy and tactics for South Vietnam continued throughout 1958 and into 1959. Captured reports from party headquarters in South Vietnam betrayed doubt and indecisions among party leaders there and reflected the absence of clear guidance from Hanoi. Moreover. in 1958, and in 1959~ the DRV did concentrate much of its resources on agricultural and industrial improvement; extensive loans were obtained from the Soviet Union and from the Chinese Peoples Republic, and ambitious uplift programs were launched in both sectors. It is possible, therefore, to accept the view that through 1958 the DRV still accorded priority to butter over guns, as part of its base development strategy. In the larger sense, domestic progress, "consolidation of the North," was fundamental to that strategy. As General Vo Nguyen Giap put it in the Lao Dong Party journal Hoc Tap of January 1960:


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val, 1 The North has become a large rear echelon of our army . . . The North is the revolutionary base for the whole country.

Up until 1959, the economy of North Vietnam was scarcely providing subsistence for its people, let alone support for foreign military undertakings; by that year, substantial progress in both agriculture and industry was evident:

Kilograms %

NORTH VIETNAM FOOD GRAIN PER CAPITA 1955 1956 1957 1958 260 310 283 315 100 119 109 121

1959 358 138


304 117

Due mainly, however, to industrial growth. the Gross National Product reached a growth rate of 6% per annum in 1958, and sustained that rate thereafter. Both 1958 and 1959 were extraordinarily good years in both industry and agriculture. A long-range development plan launched in 1958 achieved an annual industrial expansion of 21 % per year through 1960, chiefly in heavy industry. Foreign aid-both Chinese and Soviet-was readily obtained, the USSR supplanting the CPR as prime donor. Foreign trade stepped up markedly. Compared with 1955, the DRV's foreign commerce doubled by 1959, and nearly tripled by 1960. By 1959, it seems likely that the DRV had elected to pursue a "guns and butter" strategy, and obtained requisite Soviet and Chinese aid. While pressing forward with its economic improvement programs-which were showing definite progress-the DRV prepared with word and deed for large-scale intervention in South Vietnam. In May 1959. at the Fifteenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party. a Resolution was adopted identifying the United States as the main obstacle to the realization of the hopes of the Vietnamese people, and as an enemy of peace. The Resolution of the Fifteenth Plenum called for a strong North Vietnam as a base for helping the South Vietnamese to overthrow Diem and eject the United States. A Communist Party history captured in South Vietnam in 1966, and the testimony of high-ranking captives, indicate that South Vietnamese communists still regard the resolution of the Fifteenth Plenum as the point of departure for DRV intervention. Within a month of the Fifteenth Plenum, the DRV began to commit its armed forces in Laos, and steadily escalated its aid to the Pathet Lao. By the time the National Liberation Front issued its manifesto in December 1960, the conflict in Laos had matured to the point that Pathet Lao-NVA troops controlJed most of NE Laos and the Laotian panhandle; moreover, by that time, the Soviet Union had entered the fray. and was participating in airlift operations from North Vietnam direct to Pathet Lao-NVA units in Laos. Also. by fall of 1959, the insurgency in South Vietnam took a definite upsurge. Viet Cong units for the first time offered a direct challenge to the Army of Vietnam. Large VC formations seized and held district and province capitals for short periods of time. and assassinations and kidnappings proliferated markedly. The Preamble of the Constitution of the DRV. promulgated on 1 January 1960. was distinctly bellicose. condemning the United States, and establishing the reunification of Vietnam as a DRV national objective. During 1959 and 1960. the relatively undeveloped intelligence apparatus of the U.S. and the GVN confirmed that over 4.000 infiltrators were sent from North Vietnam southward-most of them military or political cadre, trained to raise and lead insurgent forces. In September 1960. the Lao Dong Party convened its Third National Congress. There Ho Chi Minh, Le Duan, Giap, and others presented speeches further com-

Origins 0/ the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


mitting the DRV to support of the insurgency in the South. demanding the U.S. stop its aid to Diem. and calling for the formation of a unified front to lead the struggle against "My-Diem:' The Resolution of the Third Congress. re:fleeting these statements, is another of those historic benchmarks referred to in captured party documents and prisoner interrogations. In November 1960, the Moscow Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries once again declared its support of the sort of "just" war the DRV intended to prosecute. The United States was identified as the principal colonial power, and the right and obligation of communist parties to lead struggles against colonial powers was detailed. By the time Khrushchev cited that Declaration in his "wars of national liberation" speech, the "liberation war" for South Vietnam was nearly a year and a half old. The evidence supports the conclusion, therefore, that whether or not the rebellion against Diem in South Vietnam proceeded independently of, or even contrary to directions from Hanoi through 1958, Hanoi moved thereafter to capture the revolution. There is little doubt that Hanoi exerted some influence over certain insurgents in the South throughout the years following Geneva, and there is evidence which points to its preparing for active support of large-scale insurgency as early as 1958. Whatever differences in strategy may have existed among Moscow, Peking, and Hanoi, it appears that at each critical juncture Hanoi obtained concurrence in Moscow with an aggressive course of action. Accordingly, it was not "peaceful coexistence:' or concern over leadership of the "soeialist camp" which governed Hanoi's policy. What appeared to matter to Hanoi was its abiding national interests: domestic consolidation in independence, reunification, and Vietnamese hegemony in Southeast Asia. Both Soviet and Chinese policy seems to have bent to these ends rather than the contrary. If Hanoi applied brakes to eager insurgents in South Vietnam, it did so not from lack of purpose or because of Soviet restraints, but from concern over launching one more premature uprising in the South. N go Dinh Diem was entirely correct when he stated that his was a nation at war in early 1959; South Vietnam was at war with both the Viet Cong insurgents and with the DRV, in that the latter then undertook to provide strategic direction and leadership cadres to build systematically a base system in Laos and South Vietnam for subsequent, large-scale guerrilla warfare. Persuasive evidence exists that by 1960 DRV support of the insurgency in South Vietnam included materiel as well as personnel. In any event, by late 1959, it seems clear that Hanoi considered the time ripe to take the military offensive in South Vietnam, and that by 1960 circumstances were propitious for more overt political action. A recently captured high-ranking member of the National Liberation Front has confirmed that in mid-1960 he and other Lao Dong Party leaders in South Vietnam were instructed by Hanoi to begin organizing the National Liberation Front, wh:ch was formally founded upon the issuance of its Manifesto on 20 December 1960. The rapid growth of the NLF thereafter-s-it quadrupled its strength in about one year-is a further indication that the Hanoi-directed communist party apparatus had been engaged to the fullest in the initial organization and subsequent development of the NLF. U.S. PERCEPTIONS OF THE INSURGENCY. 1954-1960

Much of what the U.S. knows about the origins of the insurgency in South Vietnam rests on information it has acquired since 1963, approximately the span of time that an extensive and effective American intelligence apparatus had been functioning in Vietnam. Before then, our intelligence was drawn from a

266 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Yolo 1 significantly more narrow and less reliable range of sources, chiefly Vietnamese, and could not have supported analysis in depth of insurgent organization and intentions. The U.S. was particularly deprived of dependable information concerning events in South Vietnam's countryside in the years 1954 through 1959. Nonetheless, U.S. intelligence estimates through 1960 correctly and consistently estimated that the threat to GVN internal security was greater than the danger from overt invasion. The intelligence estimates provided to policy makers in Washington pegged the Viet Cong military offensive as beginning in late 1959, with preparations noted as early as 1957, and a definite campaign perceived as of early 1959. Throughout the years, they were critical of Diem, consistently expressing skepticism that he could deal successfully with his internal political problems. These same estimates miscalculated the numerical and political strength of the Viet Cong, misjudged the extent of rural disaffection, and overrated the military capabilities of the GVN. But as strategic intelligence they were remarkably sound. Indeed, given the generally bleak appraisals of Diem's prospects, they who made U.S. policy could only have done so by assuming a significant measure of risk. For example, on 3 August 1954, an NIE took the position that: Although it is possible that the French and Vietnamese, even with firm support from the U.S. and other powers, may be able to establish a strong regime in South Vietnam, we believe that the chances for this development are poor and, moreover, that the situation is more likely to continue to deteriorate progressively over the next year . . . This estimate notwithstanding, the U.S. moved promptly to convene the Manila Conference, bring SEATO into being with its protocol aegis over Vietnam, and eliminate France as the recipient of U.S. aid for Vietnam. Again on 26 April 1955, an NIE charged that: Even if the present empasse [with the sects] were resolved, we believe that that it would be extremely difficult, at best, for a Vietnamese government, regardless of its composition, to make progress towards developing a strong, stable, anti-Communist government capable of resolving the basic social, economic, and political problems of Vietnam, the special problems arising from the Geneva Agreement and capable of meeting the longrange challenge of the Communists . . . Within a matter of weeks, however, the U.S. firmly and finally committed itself to unstinting support of Ngo Dinh Diem, accepted his refusal to comply with the political settlement of Geneva, and acceded to withdrawal of French military power and political influence from South Vietnam. Even at the zenith of Diem's success, an NIE noted adverse political trends stemming from Diem's "authoritarian role" and predicted that, while no short-term opposition was in prospect: Over a longer period, the accumulation of grievances among various groups and individuals may lead to development of a national opposition movement . . . There was no NIE published between 1956 and 1959 on South Vietnam: an NIB of May 1959 took the position that Diem had a serious military problem on his hands: The [GVN] internal security forces will not be able to eradicate DRV supported guerrilla or subversive activity in the foreseeable future. Army

Origins oj the Insurgency ill South Vietnam, 1954-1960


units will probably have to be diverted to special internal security assignments . . . The same NIE noted a waning of popular enthusiasm for Diem. the existence of some disillusionment, "particularly among the educated elite," some Udissat_ isfaction among military officers," but detected little "identifiable public unrest": The growth of dissatisfaction is inhibited by South Vietnam's continuing high standard of living relative to that of its neighbors, the paternalistic attitude of Diem's government towards the people, and the lack of any feasible alternative to the present regime. The 1959 NIB again expressed serious reservations about Diem's leadership and flatly stated that: The prospects for continued political stability in South Vietnam bang heavily upon President Diem and his ability to mantain firm control of the army and police. The regime's efforts to assure internal security and its belief that an authoritarian government is necessary to handle the country's problems will result in a continued repression of potential opposition elements. This policy of repression will inhibit the growth of popularity of the regime and we believe that dissatisfaction will grow, particularly among those who are politically conscious . . • Despite these reservations, U.S. policy remained staunchly and fairly uncritically behind Diem through 1959. The National Intelligence Estimates reservations re Diem do not appear to have restrained the National Security Council in its two major reviews of U.S. policy between 1954 and 1960. In 1956, the NSC (in policy directive NSC 5612) directed that U.S. agencies

Assist Free Vietnam to develop a strong. stable, and constitutional government to enable Free Vietnam to assert an increasingly attractive contrast to conditions in the present Communist zone . . . [and] work toward the weakening of the Communists in North and South Vietnam in order to bring about the eventual peaceful reunification of a free and independent Vietnam under anti-Communist leadership. In 1958 (in NSC 5809) this policy, with its "roll-back" overtones, was reiterated. although revisions were proposed indicating an awareness of the necessity to adapt the army of Vietnam for anti-guerrilla warfare. Operations Coordinating Board Progress Reports on the implementation of the policies laid out in NSC 5612 and 5809 revealed awareness that Vietnam was under internal attack, and that "in spite of substantial U.S. assistance, economic development. though progressing, is below that which is politically desirable." While classified policy papers through 1959 thus dealt with risks" public statements of U.S. officials did not refer to the jeopardy. To the contrary, the picture presented the public and Congress by Ambassador Durbrow, General Wl1Iiams, and other Administration spokesmen was of continuing progress, virtually miraculous improvement, year-in and year-out. Diem was depicted as a strong and capable leader, firmly in command of his own house, leading his people into modern nationhood at a remarkable pace. As late as the summer of 1959. Ambassador Durbrow and General Williams assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Vietnam's internal security was in no serious danger. and that Vietnam was in a better position to cope with invasion from the North


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Pol. I

than it had ever been. In the fall of 1959, in fact, General Williams expressed the opinion that by 1961 GVN defense budgets could be reduced, and in the spring of 1960, he wrote to Senator Mansfield that American military advisors could begin a phased withdrawal from MAAG, Vietnam the following year. Whatever adverse judgment may be deserved by such statements or by the quality of U.S. assistance to Vietnam on behalf of its internal security, the American aid program cannot be faulted for failing to provide Diem funds in plenty. The U.S. aid program--economic and military-for South Vietnam was among the largest in the world. From FY 1946 through FY 1961, Vietnam was the third ranking non-Nato recipient of aid, and the seventh worldwide. In FY 1961, the last program of President Eisenhower's Administration, South Vietnam was the fifth ranking recipient overall. MAAG, Vietnam, was the only military aid mission anywhere in the world commanded by a lieutenant general, and the economic aid mission there was by 1958 the largest anywhere. Security was the focus of U.S. aid; more than 75% of the economic aid the U.S. provided in the same period went into the GVN military budget; thus at least $8 out of every $10 of aid provided Vietnam went directly toward security. In addition, other amounts of nominally economic aid (e.g., that for public administration) went toward security forces, and aid for agriculture and transportation principally funded projects with strategic purposes and with an explicit military rationale. For example, a 20-mile stretch of highway from Saigon to Bien Hoa, built at Gen. Williams' instance for specifically military purposes, received more U.S. economic aid than all funds provided for labor, community development, social welfare, health, and education in the years 1954-1961. In March 1960, Washington became aware that despite this impressive outpouring of treasure. material, and advice, the Viet Cong were making significant headway against Diem, and that U.S. aid programs ought to be reconfigured. In March, the lCS initiated action to devise a Counter-insurgency Plan (CIP), intended to coordinate the several U.S. agencies providing assistance to the GVN, and rationalize the GVN's own rural programs. The CIP was worked out among the several U.S. agencies in Washington and Saigon during the summer and fall of 1960. The heightened awareness of problems in Vietnam did not, however, precipitate changes in NSC policy statements on Vietnam. Objectives set forth in NSC 6012 (25 July 1960) were virtually identical to those of NSC 5809. Planning proceeded against a background of developing divergence of view between the Departments of State and Defense. As Ambassador Durbrow and his colleagues of State saw the problem on the one hand, Diem's security problems stemmed from his political insolvency. They argued that the main line of U.S. action should take the form of pressures on Diem to reform his government and his party, liberalizing his handling of political dissenters and the rural populace. Department of Defense officials, on the other hand, usually deprecated the significance of non-communist political dissent in South Vietnam, and regarded Diem's difficulties as proceeding from military inadequacy. In this view, what was needed was a more efficient internal defense, and. therefore, the Pentagon tended to oppose U.S. leverage on Diem because it might jepardize his confidence in the U.S., and his cooperation in improving his military posture. Communist machination, as Defense saw it, had created the crisis; the U.S. response should be "unswerving support" for Diem. While the CIP was being developed, Department of Defense moved to adapt the U.S. military assistance program to the exigencies of the situation. On 30 March 1960 the JCS took the position that the Army of Vietnam should develop an anti-guerrilla capability within the regular force structure, thus reversing an

Origins 01 the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


antithetical position taken by General Williams. During 1959 Diem had attempted to form a number of special "commando" units from his regular forces, and the MAAG had opposed him on the grounds that these would deplete his conventional strength. In May. MAAG was authorized to place advisers down to battalion level. In June, 1960, additional U.S. Army special forces arrived in Vietnam, and during the summer a number of Ranger battalions. with the express mission of counter-guerril1a operations, were activated. In September, General Williams was replaced by General McGarr who, consistent with the directives of the JCS, promptly began to press the training of RVNAF to produce the "anti-guerrilla guerrilla." General McGarr's desire for an RVNAF capable of meeting and defeating the Viet Cong at their own game was evident in the CIP when it was forwarded to Washington, in January, 1961, just before John F. Kennedy took office. The CIP had been well coordinated within the U.S. mission in Vietnam, but only partially with the Vietnamese. The plan, as forwarded, incorporated one major point of difference between the Embassy and MAAG. General McGarr desired to increase the RVNAF force level by some 20.000 troops. while Ambassador Durbrow maintained reservations concerning the necessity or the wisdom of additional forces. The Ambassador's position rested on the premise that Diem wanted the force level increase, and that the United States should not provide funds for that purpose until Diem was patently prepared to take those unpalatable political measures the Ambassador had proposed aimed at liberalizing the GVN. The Ambassador held out little hope that either the political or even military portions of the CIP could be successfully accomplished without some such leverage: "Consideration should, therefore, be given to what actions we are prepared to take to encourage, or if necessary to force, acceptance of all essential elements of the plan:' In the staff reviews of the CIP in Washington. the divergence between State and Defense noted above came once more to the fore. Those (chiefly within DOD) who considered the VC threat as most important, and who therefore regarded military measures against this threat as most urgent, advocated approval and any other measures which would induce Diem's acceptance of the CIP, and his cooperation with MAAG. They were impatient with Ambassador Durbrow's proposed "pressure tactics" since they saw in them the possibility of GVN delay on vital military matters, and the prospect of little profit other than minor concessions from Diem in political areas they deemed peripheral or trivial in countering the VC. Tipping the scales toward what might be called the Diem/MAAG/DOD priorities was the coincident and increasing need to "reassure" Diem of U.S. support for the GVN and for him personally. The fall of President Syngman Rhee of Korea in April. the abortive November 1960 coup d'etat in Saigon, Ambassador Durbrow's persistent overtures for reform, and above all, uncertainties over U.S. support for the Royal Laotian Government. This requirement to reassure Diem was plainly at cross purposes with the use of pressure tactics. Ten days after President Kennedy came to office, he authorized a $41 million increase in aid for Vietnam to underwrite a level increase and improvements in the Civil Guard-a complete buy of the CIP. In March, Ambassador Durbrow was replaced by Frederick E. Nolting. Amhassador Durbrow's closing interview with Diem in mid-March was not reassuring. While Diem stated that he was prepared to carry out the military aspects of the CIP. he dodged Durbrow's questions on the political action prescribed. It was on this disquieting note that the Kennedy Administration began its efforts to counter the insurgency in South Vietnam. End of Summary




Three Agreements on the Cessation of Hostilities for Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia Provisions



Cambodia No provision

A. Disengagement, Partition. and Military Regroupment

Disengagement of combatants, including concen~n o!. forces mto provisional ~bly areas (~d proVISlonal Withdrawal of other party's forces from such areas in Vietnam)

To be completed 15 days after effective date of cease-fire in each area. Provisional assembly areas for French Union forces; perimeter of Hanoi, perimeter of Haiduong, perimeter of Haiphong

To be completed 15 days after effective date of cease-fire (Aug. 22, 1954) [Art. 11]

Provisional ~bly areas for V~et-. nam People s Army: Quang Ngat-Binh Dinh perimeter (Central Vietnam), Xuyen-Moc, Ham Tan perimeter (South Vietnam), Plaine des Jones perimeter, and Cape Camau perimeter (both South Vietnam) [Art. 15]

reception Vietnamese People's Volunteer forces; 5 areas for reception French forces, 12 areas, one per province, for reception "fighting units Pathet Lao" [Art. 12]

Withdrawals of forces, supplies and equipment

French Union forces to withdraw from provisional assembly areas to regrouping zones south of demarcation line within 300 days (May 19, 1955), according to following schedule: From Hanoi perimeter-80 days (October 11, 1954) From Haiduong perimeter-l00 days (November 1, 1954) From Haiphong perimeter-300 days (May 19, 1955

French forces to withdraw, except from bases at Seno and in MeKong Valley near or downstream from Vientiane, in 120 days (Nov. 20, 1954) [Art. 4, 12] Vietnames People's Volunteers, except those settled in Laos before hostilities

Provisional assembly

areas: 5 areas for

French armed forces and military combatantpersonnel, combatant formations of all types which have entered Cambodia from other countries or regions, and nonnative Cambodians holding supervisory functions in bodies

People's Army of Vietnam to withdraw from provisional assembly areas to regrouping zone north of demarcation line within 300 days (May 19, 1955), according to following schedule: From Xuyen-Moc, Ham Tan-80 days (October 11, 1954) From Central Vietnam 1-80 days (October 11, 1954) From Plaine des Jones-loo days (November 1, 1954) From Central Vietnam 11-100 days (November 1, 1954) From Cape Camau-200 days (February 8, 1955) From Central Vietnam m-300 days (May 19, 1955) [Art. 15]

(special convention), to withdraw by provinces in 120 days (Nov. 20, 1954 [Art 4, 13]

connected with Vietnamese (DRV) aetivities in Cambodia to withdraw within 90 days (Oct. 21, 1954) [Art. 4]

Plans for movements into regrouping zones

To be communicated between the parties within 25 days (August 17, 1954) [Art. 11]

No provision

No provision

Provisional military demarcation line

Vicinity of 17째 N latitude from the mouth of the Song Ben Hat (Cua Tung River) and the course of that river (known as the Rao Tkanh in the mountain) to the village of Do Ho Su, then the parallel of Do Ho Su to the Laos-Viet-Nam frontier [Art. 1-4, Annex]

No provision

No provision

Demilitarized zone

On either side of demarcation line to width of not more than 5 kms, to act as a buffer zone [Art. 1]

No provision

No provision N






Withdrawal of all forces, supplies, and equipment from deD!ilita~d zone

To be completed within 25 days (August 14, 1954) [Art. 5]

No provision

No provision

Withdrawal for assembly or regrouping through territory of the other party

Forces of the other party to withdraw provisionally 3 kms. on each side of route of withdrawal [Art. 12]

No provision

No provision

On-the-spot deD!obiIization

No provision

Any military personnel of the fighting units of "Pathet Lao," who so wish, may be demobilized on the spot [Art. 14]

Khmer Resistance Forces to be demobilized on the spot within 30 days (August 22, 1954) [Art. 5]

Concentration areas

No provision

No provision Pending political settlement, fighting units of "Pathet Lao" to move into provinces of Phong Saly and Sam-Neus and to move between these two provinces in defined corridor along LaosVietnam border Concentration to be completed within 120 days (Nov. 20, 1954) [Art. 14]


...J N

B. Civil Regroupment and Administration Movement across demarcation line or into demilitarized zones

Prohibited except by specific permission of the Joint Commission; fully authorized for the Joint Commission, its organs, the International Supervisory Commission and its organs [Art. 6, 7, 9]

No provision

No provision

Civil administration and relief in demilitarized zones

Responsibility of the Commanders in Chief of the two parties in their respective zones on either side of the demarcation line [Art. 14]

No provision

No provision

Civil and administrative measures pending general elections

In each regrouping zone, a) civil administration to be in hands of party whose forces to be regrouped in that zone, b) civil administration in a territory to be transferred to continue in hands of present controlling force until the withdrawing troops have completely left, c) from July 2S through completion of troop regroupment (May 19, 1955) any civilians so desiring may be permitted and helped to move to other zone, d) from July 23 through completion of troop regroupment, any civilians so desiring may be permitted and helped to move to other zone [Art. 14]

Each party to refrain from any reprisals or discrimination against persons or organizations for their activities during hostilities and to guarantee their democratic freedoms [Art. 15]

No reprisals to be taken against any nationals or their families, each being entitled, without any discrimination, to all constitutional guarantees concerning protection of person and property and democratic freedoms [Art. 5, 6]

N -.I




Liberation and repatriation of POW's and civilian internees

All POW's and civilian internees (latter term covering all persons who have been detained by reason of contributing in any way to the "political and armed struggle" between the parties) held by both sides to be liberated within 30 days after the cease-fire in each theater and to be surrendered to appropriate authorities of other party who shall assist them in proceeding to their country of origin, place of habitual residence, or zone of their choice [Art. 21]

Same as for Vietnam, Same as for Vietnam, except that only foreign except that no time POWs captured by either period is given, and that only foreign POW's party are to be surrendered to appropriate captured by either authorities of other party party are to be sur[Art. 16] rendered to appropriate authorities of other party [Art. 8]

Prohibited from July 23, 1954, except for: rotation of units, admittance of individual personnel on a temporary duty basis, and return to Vietnam of individual personnel from leave or temporary duty abroad, which are allowed under defined and controlled conditions [Art. 16]

Prohibited after proclamation of cease-fire, but French may leave maximum of 1,500 officers and NCO's to train Laotian National Army [Art. 6]




-..J ~

C. Arms Control

Introduction of troop reinforcements and additional military personnel, including instructors

Prohibited after date of cease-fire in Vietnam and until final political settlement in Vietnam, except for purpose of "effective defense of its territory" [Art. 7]

Introduction of all types of arms, munitions, and other war materiels, including aircraft

Specified points of entry for excepted personnel and replacement material

Prohibited from July 23, 1954, except for piece-for-piece replacement of war materiel, arms, munitions destroyed, damaged, worn out, or used up after cessation hostilities (exception does not apply to French Union forces north of demarcation line during 300 day withdrawal period) Admission of any materials on excepted basis to be under defined and controlled conditions [Art. 17] 1) North of Line: Laokay, Langson, Tien-Yen, Haiphong, Vinh, Dong-Hoi, Muong-Sen 2) South of Line: Tourane, Quinhon, Nhatrang, Bangoi, Saigon, Cap St. Jacques, Tranchau

Prohibited after July 23, except for specified quantities of arms in categories specified as necessary for defense of Laos [Art. 9]

Prohibited after date of cease-fire in Vietname and until final political settlement in Vietnam, except for purpose of "'effective defense of its territory" [Art. 7]

Luang-Prabang, XiengKhouang, Vientiane, Seno, Pakse, Savannakhet, Tchepone [Art. 10]

No provision

Prohibited after July 23, except for 1) French base at Seno, 2) French base in Mekong Valley, either in Vientiane Province or downstream from Vientiane. Effectives in these two French bases may not exceed 3,500 men. Bases of foreign powers prohibited "so long as its security is not threatened" [Art. 7, 8]

Military bases of foreign powers prohibited after July 23 "so long as its security is not threatened" [Art. 7]

[Art, 20]

Establishment of new military bases in Vietnam and Laos and military bases of foreign powers in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia

Prohibited after July 23, 1954 throughout Vietnam [Art. 18, 19]










Adherence to military alliances

Prohibited for both zones from July 23, 1954 [Art. 19]

No provision

May not join agreements carrying the the obligation to enter into military alliance "not in conformity with the principles of the Charter of the UN or with the principles of the agreements on the cessation of hostilities or, so long as its security is not threatened, to establish bases on Cambodian territory for the military forces of foreign powers" [Art. 7)

Use of zones to resume hostilities or to further aggressive policy

Prohibited from July 23, 1954

No provision

No provision

Rests with the parties [Art. 24]

Rests with the parties [Art. 10]

[Art. 19)

D. International Supervision and Control Responsibility for Rests with the French and People's ensuring observance Army Commanders [Art. 22] and enforcement of terms and provisions of the agreements

International Control Commission

Fixed inspection teams (of International Control Commission) Mobile inspection teams (of International Control Commission)

To be composed of India, Canada, Poland, with India as chairman, and to be set up at time of cessation of hostilities "to ensure control and supervision." Headquarters not given [Art. 29, 34, 36]

Same as for Vietnam; Headquarters, Vientiane [Art. 25]

Same as for Vietnam; Headquarters, PhnomPenh [Art. 12]

At Laokay, Langson, Tien-Yen, Haiphong, Vinh, Dong-Hoi, Muong-Sen, Tourane, Quinhon, Nhatrang, Bangoi, Saigon, Cap 81. Jacques, Tranchau

At Pakse, Seno, Tchepone, Vientiane, XiengKhouang, Phong-Saly, Sophao (Sam-Neua)

At Phnom Penh, Kompong-Cham, Kratie, Svay-Rieng, Kampot [Art. 12]

[Art. 35]

[Art. 26]

Zones of action: Regions bordering land and sea frontiers of Vietnam, demarcation lines between regrouping zones, and demilitarized zones

Zones of action: Land frontiers of Laos [Art. 26]

Zones of action: Land and sea frontiers of Cambodia [Art. 12]

[Art. 35]

Joint Commission of the parties

Established by the parties to facilitate execution of provisions concerning joint actions by the two parties (equal number of representatives of the commands of both parties) [Art. 33]

Set up to facilitate implementation of the agreement (equal number of representatives of commands of parties concemed) [Art. 28] [Art 14]

Joint Commission teams or groups

To be set up by Joint Commission and governed by the parties [Art. 32]

Formed by Joint Commission [Art. 28]

Formed by Joint Commission [Art. 14]




Provisions International Control Commission recommendations

Vietnam Laos Cambodia 1) Adopted by majority, except when dealing with questions concerning violations, threats of violations, or problems which might lead to resumption of hostilities, in which cases unanimity applies; 2) Sent directly to the parties and Joint Commission is notified; 3) Recommendation concerning amendments and additions to provisions of the agreement may be formulated with unanimous participation [Art. 40, 41] [Art. 34, 35] [Art. 19, 20]

Appeal to members of the Geneva Conference

If one party refuses to put into effect a recommendation of the International Control Commission,

E. Procedural Matters Parties and signatories to agreements

Entry into force of agreements

the parties concerned or the Commission itself shall inform the members of the Geneva Conference. If unanimity is not reached by the Commission in cases where it applies, a majority and one or more minority reports shall be submitted. The Commission shall inform members of the conference in all cases where its activity is being hindered. [Art. 43] [Art. 36] (Art 22] For the Commander in Chief of the People's Army of Vietnam, Ta-Quang Buu, Vice-Minister of National Defense of the DRV; For the Commander in Chief of the French Union Forces in Indochina, Brig. Gen. Delteil [Art. 47]

For the Commander in Chief of the fighting units of "Pathet Lao" and for ~e Commander in CW$f of the People's ArnDy of Vietnam, TaQuang Buu; For the Commander in Chief of the French Union Forces in Indochina, Brig. Gen. Delteil [Art. 41]

Except as provided, 2400 hours, July 22, 1954 (Geneva time) [Art. 47] [Art. 40]

Fer the Commander of the units of the Khmer Resistance Forces and for the Commander in Chief of the Vietnamese (DRV) military units, Ta-Quang Buu; For theCommander in Chief of theKhmer National armed forces, General Nhiek Tioulong [Art. 33] 00 hours, July 23, 1954 (Geneva time) [Art. 33]

N -.J 00

Effective date of cessation of hostilities

North Vietnam: 0800 (local), July 27, 1954 Central Vietnam: 0800 (local), August 1, 1954 Southern Vietnam: 0800 (local), August 11, 1954 [Art. 11]

0800 (local), August 6, 1954 [Art. 40]

0800 (local), August 7, 1954 [Art. 2]

MAJOR PROVISIONS OF THE 1954 GENEVA ACCORDS Conference Final Declaration" and Unilateral Declarations" * Provisions



Principles of political settlement

Respect for "independence, unity, territorial integrity:' and enjoyment of "fundamental freedoms guaranteed by democratic institutions established as a result of free general elections by secret ballot" [CFD Art. 7]

All citizens of Laos and Cambodia to be integrated without discrimination into the national community and to be guaranteed enjoyment of rights and freedoms provided by the constitution [UD Laos and Cambodia; CFD Art. 3]


• Abbreviated "CFD"intable.

** Abbreviated "DD" in table. Laos, Cambodia, and France each made two unilateral declarations referring to the CFD.

N -.J 'D

Provisions Method of political settlement

Vietnam "General elections to be held in July 1956, under supervision of an international commission composed of representatives of the Member States of the International Supervisory Commission referred to in the agreement on cessation of hostilities. Consultations will be held on this subject between the competent, representative authorities of the two zones from 20 July 1955 onwards." [CFD Art. 71

Withdrawal of French forces

At the request of the government and within a period to be fixed by agreement between the parties, except in cases where, by agreement between the two parties, a certain number of French troops shall remain at specified points and for a specified time [UD France; CFD Art. 101

Reprisals against persons who have collaborated with one of parties during war, or their families

Must not be permitted [CFD Art. 91

Protection of individuals and property

Provisions of agreements on cessation hostilities must be most strictly applied [CFD Art. 8]

Free choice of zone of residence

Everyone must be allowed to decide freely in which zone he wishes to live [CFD Art. 8)

Principle of relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

The French Government and each member of the Geneva Conference undertakes to respect the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and to refrain from any interference in their internal affairs [UD France; CFD Art. 11, 12}

Laos Cambodia All Laotian and Cambodian citizens to participate freely as electors or candidates in general elections by secret ballot; in conformity with the constitution, next general elections to take place in the course of 1955 by secret ballot and in conditions of respect for fundamental freedoms [Un Laos and Cambodia; CFD Art. 3)

Must not be permitted [CFD Art. 91

No provision

Must not be permitted [CFD Art. 9)

No provision




Special representation for dissident elements

No provision

Government of Laos will promulgate measures to provide for special representation. in the Royal Administration of PhongSaly and Sam-Neua Provinces during interval between cessation hostilities and general elections, of the interests of Laotian Nationals who did not support royal forces during hostilities [UO Laos]

No provision

Introduction of arms and force, adherence to military alliances. or establishment of foreign bases

Clauses in Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities Vietnam noted [CFD Art. 4, 5]

Government of Laos will not join in any agreement with other states if it includes the obligation to participate in a military alliance not in conformity with the principles of the UN Charter or with the principles of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities or, unless its security is threatened, the obligation to establish bases on Laotian territory for military forces of foreign powers. [UO Laos; CFD Art. 4, 5]

"The Royal Govern-

ment of Cambodia will not join in any agreement with other States, if this agreement carries for Cambodia the obligation to enter a military alliance not in conformity with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, or, as long as its security is not threatened, the obligation to establish bases on Cambodian territory for the military forces of foreign powers:' [UO Cambodia; CFD Art. 4, 5]



---- .. ,-~-------------------------------------------------------

N 00 N





Use of territory to further aggression

Clauses in Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam noted [CFD Art. S]

The Govemment of Laos undertook "never to permit the territory of Laos to be used in furtherance of a policy of aggression." [Un Laos]

The Government of Cambodia "resolved never to take part in an aggressive policy and never to permit the territory of Cambodia to be utilized in service of such a policy." [Un Cambodia]

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 I.





The Geneva Conference of 1954 brought only transitory peace to Indochina. Nonetheless, except for the U nited States, the major powers were, at the time of the Conference, satisfied that with their handiwork: the truce averted a further U.S. military involvement on the Asian mainland, and dampened a heightening crisis between East and West which might readily have led to conflict outside Southeast Asia. So long as these conditions obtained, neither France, the U.K., the U.S.S.R. nor Communist China were seriously disposed to disturb the modus vivendi in Vietnam. U.S. leaders publicly put the best face possible on the Geneva Settlement-about all that might possibly have been obtained from a seriously disadvantaged negotiating position, and no serious impairment to freedom of United States action. But the U.S., within its inner councils immediately after Geneva, viewed the Settlement's provisions for Vietnam as "disaster," and determined to prevent, if it could. the further extension of communist government over the Vietnamese people and territory. U.S. policy adopted in 1954 to this end did not constitute an irrevocable nor "open-ended" commitment to the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. But it did entail a progressively deepening U.S. involvement in the snarl of violence and intrigue within Vietnam, and therefore a direct role in the ultimate breakdown of the Geneva Settlement. The Settlement of Geneva. though it provided respite from years of political violence, bitterly disappointed Vietnamese of North and South alike who had looked toward a unified and independent Vietnam. For the Viet Minh, the Settlement was a series of disappointing compromises to which they had agreed at the urging of the Soviet Union and China, compromises beyond what hard won military advantage over the French had led them to expect. For the State of Vietnam in the South, granted independence by France while the Geneva Conference was in progress, the Settlement was an arrangement to which it had not been party. and to which it could not subscribe. The truce of 1954, in fact, embodied three serious deficiencies as a basis for stable peace among the Vietnamese: - I t relied upon France as its executor. -It ignored the opposition of the State of Vietnam. -It countenanced the disassociation of the United States. These weaknesses turned partitioned Vietnam into two hostile states, and given the absence of a stabilizing international force and the impotence of the ICC, brought about an environment in which war was likely. perhaps inevitable. A nominally temporary "line of demarcation" between North and South at the 11th parallel was transformed into one of the more forbidding frontiers of the world. A mass displacement of nearly 5% of the population disrupted the polity and heightened tensions in both North and South. And both the Democratic Government of Vietnam (DRV) in the North, and the Government of Vietnam (GVN) in the South armed, with foreign aid, for what each perceived as a coming struggle over reunification. Some of the main roots of the present conflict run to these failures of Geneva.

284 B.

Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. I THE PARTITION OF VIE1'NAM

Provisions for Unifying Vietnam The sole formal instrument of the Geneva Conference was the document signed by the military commanders of the two hostile forces termed •.Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Viet-Nam," dealing largely with the disengagement and regroupment of military forces. Article 14 of the Agreement contained one brief-but fateful allusion-to a future political solution: 1.

Article 14a. Pending the general elections which will bring about the unification of Vietnam, the conduct of civil administration in each regrouping zone shall be in the hands of the party whose forces are to be regrouped there in virtue of the present agreement. . . . A more general expression of the intent of the conferees was the unsigned "Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference." by which the Conference "takes note" of the aforementioned Agreement and several declarations by represented nations and: • . • recognizes that the essential purpose of the agreement relating to Vietnam is to settle military questions with a view to ending hostilities and that the military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary , . . declares that, so far as Vietnam is concerned. the settlement of political problems, effected on the basis of respect for the principles of independence, unity, and territorial integrity, shall permit the Vietnamese people to enjoy the fundamental freedoms, guaranteed by democratic institutions established as a result of free general elections by secret ballot. In order to insure that sufficient progress in the restoration of peace has been made, and that all the necessary conditions obtain for free expression of the national wilJ, general elections shall be held in July, 1956, under the supervision of an international commission composed of representatives of the member States of the International Supervisory Commission, referred to in the agreement on the cessation of hostilities. Consultations will be held on this subject between the competent representative authorities of the two zones from 20 July 1955 onwards. • . . The DRV approved the Final Declaration, and. having failed in its attempts to bring about immediate elections on unification, no doubt did so reluctantly. There has been some authoritative speculation that the Viet Minh accepted this aspect of the Settlement with deep cynicism; Pham Van Dong, the DRV delegate at Geneva is supposed to have expressed conviction that the elections would never be held. But it seems more likely that the communist powers fully expected the nascent GVN, already badly shaken from internal stresses, to collapse, and unification to follow with elections or not. In any event. the public stance of the DRV stressed their expectations that the election would be held. Ho Chi Minh stated unequivocally on 22 July 1954 that: "North, Central and South Vietnam are territories of ours. Our country will surely be unified. our entire People will surely be liberated." The Saigon Government was no less assertive in calling for unification of




Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


Vietnam. In a note to the French of 17 July 1954, the GVN delegate at Geneva protested having been left until then "in complete ignorance" of French intentions regarding the division of the country, which he felt failed to "take any account of the unanimous will for national unity of the Vietnamese people"; he proposed, futilely, United Nations trusteeship of all Vietnam in preference to a nation "dismembered and condemned to slavery:' At the final session of the Conference, when called upon to join in the Final Declaration, the GVN delegate announced that his government "reserves its full freedom of action in order to safeguard the sacred right of the Vietnamese people to its territorial unity, national independence and freedom." Thus the Geneva truce confronted from the outset the anomaly of two sovereign Vietnamese states, each calling for unification, but only one, the DRV, committed to achieving it via the terms of the Settlement. 2.

France Withdraws, 1954-1956

France, as the third party in Vietnam, then became pivotal to any political settlement, its executor for the \Vest. But France had agreed to fun independence for the GVN on June 4, 1954, nearly six weeks before the end of the Geneva Conference. By the terms of that June agreement, the GVN assumed responsibility for international contracts previously made on its behalf by France; but, there having been no reference to subsequent contracts, it was technically free of the Geneva Agreements. It has been argued to the contrary that the GVN was bound by Geneva because it possessed at the time few of the attributes of full sovereignty, and especially because it was dependent on France for defense. But such debates turn on tenuous points of international law regarding the prerogatives of newly independent or partitioned states. France speedily divested itself of responsibilities for "civil administration" in South Vietnam. In February, 1956, the GVN requested France to withdraw its military forces, and on April 26, 1956, the French military command in Vietnam, the signatory of the Geneva Agreement, was dissolved. France, torn by domestic political turbulence in which past disappointments and continued frustrations in Vietnam figured prominently, and tested anew in Algeria, abandoned its position in Southeast Asia. No doubt, an increasingly acerbic relation between its representatives and those of the United States in South Vietnam hastened its departure, where American policy clashed with French over the arming and training of a national army for the GVN, over French military assistance for the religious sects, over French economic policy on repatriating investments, and over general French opposition to Diem. But more fundamentally, France felt itself shouldered aside in South Vietnam by the United States over: ( 1) Policy toward the DRV. The French averred initially that Ho was a potential Tito, and that they could through an accommodation with him preserve their economic and cultural interests in Vietnam-in their view, a "coexistence experiment" of world wide significance in the Cold War. As of December, 1954, they were determined to carry out the Geneva elections. Eventually, however. they were obliged to choose between the U.S. and the DRV, so firmly did the U.S. foreclose any adjustment to the DRV's objectives. (2) Policy toward Diem. France opposed Diem not solely because he was a vocally Francophobe Annamite, but because he threatened directly their position in Vietnam. His nationalism, his strictures against "feudalists," his notions of moral regeneration all conjoined in an enmity against the French nearly as heated as that he harbored against the communists-but to greater effect, for it was far easier for him to muster his countrymen's opinion against the French


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1

than against the Viet Minh. By the spring of 1955,. the Diem-France controversy acquired military dimensions when French supported sect forces took up arms against the GVN. At that time, while the U.S. construed its policy as aiding "Free Vietnam," the French saw Diem as playing Kerensky's role in Vietnam, with the People's Revolutionary Committee as the Bolsheviks, and Ho, the Viet Minh Lenin, waiting off stage. (3) Military Policy. By the end of 1954,. the French were persuaded that SEATO could never offer security for their citizens and other. interests in Vietnam, and had despaired of receiving U.S. military aid for a French Expeditionary corps of sufficient size to meet the threat. U.S. insistence that it should train RVNAF increased their insecurity. Within the combined U.S.French headquarters in Saigon thereafter, officers of both nations worked side by side launching countervailing intrigues among the Vietnamese, and among each other. In March of 1956, as France prepared to accede to the GVN request for withdrawal of its remaining military forces, Foreign Minister Pineau, in a Paris speech. took the U.K. and the U.S. to task for disrupting Western unity. While Pineau selected U.S. support of French-hating Diem for particular rancor, he did so in the context of decrying France's isolation in dealing with nationalist rebels in North Africa-and thus generally indicated two powers who had threatened the French empire since the U.K. intervened in Syria in 1941, and President Roosevelt assured the Sultan of Morocco that his sympathies lay with the colonial peoples struggling for independence. Ultimately. France had to place preservation of its European position ahead of empire. and, hence, cooperation with the U.S. before opposition in Indochina. France's vacating Vietnam in 1956 eased U.S. problems there over the short run, and smoothed Diem's path. But the DRV's hope for a national plebescite were thereby dashed. On January 1, 1955, as the waning of France's power in Vietnam became apparent, Pham Van Dong, DRV Premier. declared that as far as Hanoi was concerned: ". . . it was with you. the French, that we signed the Geneva Agreements. and it is up to you to see that they are respected:' Some thirteen months later the Foreign Minster of France stated that: We are not entirely masters of the situation. The Geneva Accords on the one hand and the pressure of our allies on the other creates a very complex juridical situation. . . . The position in principle is clear: France is the guarantor of the Geneva Accords . . . But we do not have the means alone of making them respected. But the GVN remained adamantly opposed to elections, and neither the U.S. nor any other western power was disposed to support France's fulfillment of its responsibility to the DRV. 3.

Diem Refuses Consultation, 1955

Communist expectations that the Diem government would fall victim to the voracious political forces of South Vietnam were unfulfilled. Diem narrowly escaped such a fate, but with American support-albeit wavering, and accompanied by advice he often ignored-Diem within a year of the Geneva Conference succeeded in defeating the most powerful of his antagonists. the armed sects, and in removing from power Francophile elements within his government. including his disloyal military chiefs. He spoke from comparatively firm political ground when, on July 16. 1955. before the date set for consulting with the DRV on the plebescite, he announced in a radio broadcast that:

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


We did not sign the Geneva Agreements. We are not bound in any way by these Agreements, signed against the will of the Vietnamese people. . • . We shall not miss any opportunity which would permit the unification of our homeland in freedom, but it is out of the question for us to consider any proposal from the Viet Minh if proof is not given that they put the superior interests of the national community above those of communism. Moreover, Diem spoke with some assurance of American backing, for the U.S. had never pressed for the elections envisaged by the Settlement. At the final session of Geneva, rather than joining with the Conference delegates in the Final Declaration, the U.S. "observer," Under Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith, had linked U.S. policy vis-a-vis Vietnam to that for Korea, Taiwan and Germany in these terms: In the case of nations now divided against their will. we shall continue to seek to achieve unity through free elections supervised by the United Nations to insure that they are conducted fairly. Although the U.S. opposed elections in 1954 because Ho Chi Minh would have then won them handily. the records of the National Security Council and the Operations Coordinating Board of the summer of 1954 establishes that this government then nonetheless expected elections eventually to be held in Vietnam. But, two major misapprehensions were evident: (1) the U.S. planned through "political action" to ameliorate conditions in Southeast Asia to the point that elections would not jeopardize its objective of survival for a "free" Vietnam; and (2) the U.S. estimated that France would usefully remain in Vietnam. By the spring of 1955, although U.S. diplomacy had brought the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization into being. and although Diem had with U.S. aid weathered a number of severe political storms, the U.S. was less sanguine than its "political action" would suffice, and that further French presence would be helpful. Accordingly, it began to look closely at the conditions under which elections might be held, and urged that Vietnamese do the same. One definition of terms acceptable to the U.S. was set forth in a State Department memorandum of 5 May 1955, approved by Secretary Dulles: The U.S. believes that the conditions for free elections should be those which Sir Anthony Eden put forward and the three Western Powers supported at Berlin in connection with German reunification. The United States believes that the Free Vietnamese should insist that elections be held under conditions of genuine freedom; that safeguards be agreed to assure this freedom before, after, and during elections and that there be adequate guarantees for. among other things, freedom of movement. freedom of presentation of candidates, immunity of candidates, freedom from arbitrary arrest or victimization. freedom of association or political meetings. freedom of expression for all. freedom of the press. radio. and free circulation of newspapers, secrecy of the vote. and security of polling stations and ballot boxes. Although the U.S. communicated to Diem its conviction that proposing such conditions to the DRV during pre-plebescite consultations would lead promptly to a flat rejection, to Diem's marked advantage in world opinion, Diem found it


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. I

preferable to refuse outright to talk to the North, and the U.S. indorsed his policy. 4.

Divided Vietnam: Status Quo Accepted

The deadline for the consultations in July 1955, and the date set for elections in July 1956, passed without further international action to implement those provisions of the Geneva Settlement. The DRV communicated directly with the GVN in July, 1955, and again in May and June of 1956, proposing not only consultative conference to negotiate "free general elections by secret ballot," but to liberalize North-South relations in general. Each time the GVN replied with disdain, or with silence. The 17th parallel. with its demilitarized zone on either side, became de facto an international boundary, and-since N go Dinh Diem's rigid refusal to traffic with the North excluded all economic exchanges and even an interstate postal agreement-one of the most restricted boundaries in the world. The DRV appealed to the U.K. and the U.S.S.R. as co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference to no avail. In January, 1956, Communist China requested another Geneva Conference to deal with the situation, but the U.S.S.R. and the U.K. responded only by extending the functions of the International Control Commission beyond its 1956 expiration date. By early 1957 the partition of Vietnam was generally accepted throughout the international community. In January, 1957. the Soviet Union proposed the admission of both the GVN and the DRV to the United Nations, the U.S.S.R. delegate declaring that "in Vietnam two separate States existed, which differed from one another in political and economic structure. . . ." Professor Hans Morgenthau, writing at the time, and following a visit to South Vietnam, described the political progress of the GV~; as a "miracle," but stated that conditions for free elections obtained in neither the North nor the South. He concluded that: Actually, the provision for free elections which would solve ultimately the problem of Vietnam was a device to hide the incompatibility of the Communist and Western positions, neither of which can admit the domination of all of Vietnam by the other side. It was a device to disguise the fact that the line of military demarcation was bound to be a line of political division as well. 5.

The Discontented

However, there were three governments, at least, for which the status quo of a Vietnam divided between communist and non-communist governments was unacceptable. The GNV, while remaining cool to the DRV, pursued an active propaganda campaign prophesying the overturning of communism in the North, and proclaiming its resolve ultimately to reunify the nation in freedom. The United States supported the GVN, having established as national policy in J956, reaffirmed again in 1958. these guidelines: Assist Free Viet Nam to develop a strong, stable and constitutional government to enable Free Viet Nam to assert an increasingly attractive contrast to conditions in the present Communist zone. . . . Work toward the weakening of the Communists in North and South Viet Nam in order to bring about the eventual peaceful reunification of a free and inde-

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


pendent Viet Nam under anti-Communist leadership. . . . Support the position of the Government of Free Viet Nam that all Viet Nam elections may take place only after it is satisfied that genuinely free elections can be held throughout both zones of Viet Nam. . . . Treat the Viet Minh as not constituting a legitimate government, and discourage other non-Communist states from developing or maintaining relations with the Viet Minh regime. . . . And the Democratic Republic of Vietnam became increasingly vocal in its calls for "struggle" to end partition. In April, 1956, as the plebescite deadline neared, Ho Chi Minh declared ominously that: While recognizing that in certain countries the road to socialism may be a peaceful one, we should be aware of this fact: In countries where the machinery of state, the armed forces, and the police of the bourgeois class are still strong, the proletarian class stiIJ has to prepare for armed struggle. While recognizing the possibility of reunifying Vietnam by peaceful means, we should always remember that our people's principal enemies are the American imperialists and their agents who still occupy half our country and are preparing for war. . . . In 1956, however, 1-10 Chi Minh and the DRV faced mounting internal difficulties, and were not yet in a position to translate the partition of Vietnam into casus belli.




Provisions for Regroupment

Article 14 of the "Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam," which provided for separate political administrations north and south of the 17th parallel, also stated that: 14(d) From the date of entry into force of the present agreement until the movement of troops is completed, any civilians residing in a district controlled by one party who wish to go and live in the zone assigned to the other party shall be permitted and helped to do so by the authorities in that district. It is probable that none of the conferees foresaw the ramifications of that one sentence, for it put in motion one million Vietnamese refugees, most of them destitute, who became at first heavy burdens on the DRV and the GVN, and ultimately political and military assets for both regimes. For the United States, the plight of these peoples lent humanitarian dimensions to its policy toward Vietnam, and new perspectives to its economic and military assistance. 2.

Exodus to South Vietnam In accordance with Article 1 of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, 190,000 troops of the French Expeditionary Corps were moved from North Vietnam to the South. In addition, some 900,000 civilians exercised their option under Article 14 (d) of the Armistice. While no wholly reliable statistics exist, there is agreement among several authorities that the figures presented by the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Vietnam (ICC), citing chiefty the Saigon Government as its source, are generally correct.



North Zone to South Zone (i)

Total arrivals (Figs. given by the State of Vietnam)

Period Ending 19.5.55

12,344 41,324 818,127


70,000 888,127

(ii) Estimate of arrivals not registered (Figs. given by the State of Vietnam in April) (iii) Figs. given by PA VN

213,635 550,824

By air By sea Across provisional demarcation line By other means Total


19.5.55 20.7.55 Up to 20.7.55



The uncertainty of statistics concerning total numbers of refugees stems not only from DRV reluctance to report departures, but also the turbulent conditions which then obtained throughout Vietnam, where the French were in the process of turning over public administration to Vietnamese, and where Saigon's communications with refugee relief operations in the field were at best tenuous. U.S. Department of State analysis in 1957 estimated the following composition and disposition of the refugees. CIVILIAN REGROUPEES FROM THE NORTH. 1954-1955 Category

Number (Approximate)

1. Registered with GVN for refugee benefits

640,000 Vietnamese 15,000 Nungs 5,000 Chinese

2. French citizens resettled or repatriated by France


3. Chinese absorbed into Chinese community in South Total

45,000 640,000 Vietnamese

(Remainder, 200,000 Vietnamese absorbed without aid, e.g., dependents of military, civil servants.) The GVN director of refugee programs reported that the refugees were composed, by trade, as follows: Farmers Fishermen Artisans, small businessmen, students, government employees, professionals

76% 10% 14%

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


But it was religious orientation which ultimately assumed the greatest importance in South Vietnam's political life: an estimated 65% of North Vietnam's Catholics moved to the South, more than 600,000 in all; these, with 2,000 northern Protestants, were settled in their own communities. 3.

Causes oj the Exodus

The flight from North Vietnam reflected apprehension over the coming to power of the Viet Minh. Institutionally, the Viet Minh were further advanced in North Vietnam than the South, and had in areas of the North under their control already conducted several experiments in social revolution. [Material missing] ~1Y-DIEM





World War D and the First Indochina War left the society of South Vietnam severely tom. The Japanese, during the years of their presence from 194~194S, had encouraged armed factionalism to weaken the French administration and strengthen their own position. The war between the Viet Minh and the French -which began in South Vietnam in September, 1945-wrought further disunity. Paradoxically, the South suffered political damage compared to the North from having been the secondary theater of both wars. The Japanese had sought during World War II to control it without sizable occupation forces. Similarly, in the First Indochina War, the French had practiced economy of force in the South so that they could concentrate in Tonkin. For conventional forces, both the Japanese and the French substituted irregular warfare and a system of bribes, subversion, arms, military advice, and officially condoned concessions in corruption. From 1945-1954, the fighting in South Vietnam was more sporadic and diffuse than in the North, but in a societal sense, ultimately more destructive. While in Tonkin the Viet Minh flowed in through and behind the French and continued to build a nation and unify the people with surprising efficiency, in the South they were unable to do so. Not only were the Viet Minh centers of power in the North and the China base area too remote to support effectively the southern insurgency, but also the French had imitated the Japanese in arming and supplying certain South Vietnamese factions, fomenting civil war against the southern arm of the Viet Minh. The results approached anarchy: a virtual breakdown in public administration by Franco-Vietnamese central governments and deep cleavages within the Vietnamese body politic. By the summer of 1954, conspiracy had become the primary form of political communication in South Vietnam, and violence the primary mode of political change. Politically, as well as geographically, South Vietnam consisted of three distinctive regions: the narrow, coastal plan of Annam, thickly settled by Vietnamese, where was located Hue, the ancient Viet capital and cultural center; the Highlands, sparseiy populated by Montagnard tribesmen, in which was situated the summer capital of Dalat; and Cochinchina, the fertile, densely peopled river-delta area in which Saigon stood [maps deleted]. Cochinchina had experienced a political development markedly different from that of Annam. The last area of modem Vietnam to be occupied by the Viet people in their expansion southward (8th Century, A.D.), and the first area to fall to French rule (mid19th Century). Cochinchina had been administered by the French directly as


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Viet EXpansiml

Prench Empire


a colony, while Annam remained under the Emperor as a French protectorate. While the mandarinal rule of the Annamese court was more a matter of form than substance, Annam's public administration preserved a degree of unity among the Vietnamese despite the impress of French culture. In South Vietnam, the French seemed to be a wholly divisive influence. Though Cochinchina was the site of some of the achievements of which French colonialists were most proud -the chief seat of the rubber industry, and focus of major feats of engineering with canals and railroads-the Cochinchinese seem to recall less the triumphs of French civilization than its burdens: the French rubber plantations, abrasive with their labor, high-handed with local peoples; the oppressive taxes, and the French controlled monopolies on salt, alcohol and opium; recurrent famine in the midst of one of the earth's richest farming regions; socially restrictive schooling; modernizing challenges to familial piety, village centralism, and other cherished fundaments of Viet culture. While Annam-and Tonkin to the northdeveloped indigenous political movements opposing French rule, these were mainly foreign-based, foreign-oriented parties, such as the Nationalist Party (VNQDD), a Vietnamese copy of the Kuomintang, or the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) of the Comintern, headed by Russian-trained Ho Chi Minh. In Cochinchina, however, there emerged a number of nationalist movements peculiar to that region, or principally based on that region. Saigon, for example, developed a range of leftist movements competitive with the ICP, including two Trotskyite parties, as well as a number of VNQDD splinter movements, and a politically active gangster fraternity, the Binh Xuyen. But the important differences were in the countryside, where millions of Vietnamese joined wholly Co-


Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


chinchinese religious sects which propagated xenophobic nationalism, established theocracies, and fielded armed forces. French and Japanese policy had deliberately fostered conflict among these several factions to the extent that Cochinchina was, in 1954. literally fractioned among the religious sects. the Binh Xuyen, and the Viet Minh. While by 1954 the Viet Minh dominated Annam and the Highlands. control of Cochinchina eluded them. for aU their ruthless efficiency. 1.

The Binh Xuyen

Saigon itself in 1954 was under the rule of the Binh Xuyen, a secret society of brigands evolved from the Black Flag pirates which had for generations preyed on the city's commerce. The Binh Xuyen ethos included a fierce-albeit eclectic -nationalism. They collaborated with the Japanese during World War II, and in September, 1945, led the savage attack against the French in Saigon which marked the start of the Franco-Viet Minh War. The Binh Xuyen leader. Le Van (Bay) Vien, SUbsequently contracted an alliance with the Viet Minh, allied his 1300 soldiers with their guerrillas. and served for a time as the Viet Minh deputy commander for Cochinchina and one of its chief sources of funds. Bay Vien's refusal to assassinate certain Viet Minh-condemned Vietnamese intellectuals reputedly stirred Viet Minh misgivings, and called the Binh Xuyen favorably to the attention of the National United Front, an anti-communist. Viet nationalist group then operating out of Shanghai. In 1947, Bay Vien was persuaded to cooperate with the National United Front. Informed, the Viet Minh invited him to the Plain of Reeds in an attempt to capture him. Bay Vien escaped, and thereupon threw in his lot with the French and the State of Vietnam. accepting a commission as the first colonel of the Vietnamese National Anny. Bay Vien afterwards paid Bao Dai what Colonel Lansdale termed "a staggering sum" for control of gambling and prostitution in Cholon, and of the SaigonCholon police. The French accepted the arrangement because Bay Vien offset the Viet Minh threat to Saigon. By 1954, Bay Vien was operating "Grande Monde," a gambling slum in Cholon; "Cloche d'Or," Saigon's preeminent gambling establishment; the "Noveautes Catinat," Saigon's best department store; a hundred smaller shops; a fleet of river boats; and a brothel, spectacular even by Asian standards. known as the Hall of Mirrors. Besides a feudal fief south of Saigon, he owned an opium factory and distribution system, and held substantial interests in fish, charcoal, hotels, and rubber plantations. Besides the police apparatus and other followers numbering 5000 to 8000. he had some 2500 soldiers at his disposal. He ruled Saigon absolutely; not even Viet Minh terrorists were able to operate there. Moreover, he exercised significant inftunce over the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao leaders. 2.

The Coo Do;

The Cao Dai were a religious sect founded by a colonial bureaucrat named Ngo Van Chieu, who with one Pham Cong Tac conducted a series of spiritualist seances from which emerged a new religious faith. and in the early 1920's. a "church" with clerical organization similar to Roman Catholicism. The doctrine of the Cao Dai was syncretic. melding veneration of Christ, Buddha. Confucius, and Lao Tze with a curious occultism which deified such diverse figures as Joan of Are, Victor Hugo. and Sun Vat Sen. With the dissolution of the authority of the central government during the 1940's and early 1950's, the Cao Dai acquired increasing political and military autonomy. The sect's 1,500.000 to 2,000,000 faithful comprised a loose theocracy centered in Tay Ninh, the border


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province northwest of Saigon. The Cao Dai, too, cooperated first with the Japanese» and then with the Viet Minh; and the Cao Dai leadership also found the latter uncomfortable allies. In 1947t the Cao Dai realigned with the French, agreeing to secure with their forces specified rural areas against the Viet Minh in return for military assistance. Although plagued throughout its history by minor heresy and factional disputes» the Cao Dai became the largest political movement in Cochinchina; the Cao Dai shared with the Hoa Hao the distinction of being the only important political forces to originate in the Vietnamese peasantry. When Diem came to power in 1954t Pham Cong Tac, the Cao Dai Pope, had declared for Bao Dai, controlled some 15 tOOO to 20t ooO armed followers, and ruled the region northwest of Saigon.


The Boa Hao

Southwest of Saigon there existed the Hoa Hao, a newer sect, similarly endowed with politico-military autonomy, which repeatedly clashed with the Cao Dai and the Binh Xuyen. In 1939 a mystic faith healer named Huynh Phu So» from a village named Boa Hao, launched a reformed Hinayana Buddhist movement which swiftly acquired a wide following. (Among the Vietnamese whom Huynh Phu So favorably impressed was Ngo Dinh Diem.) Huynh Phu So enjoyed Japanese protection, and with their aid, in 1944 the Hoa Hao formed armed bands. among the leaders of which there was one Tran Van Soai, A Viet Minh attempt to gain the assistance of the Hoa Hao failed» and the Viet Minh on 8 September 1945 massacred hundreds of Hoa Hao faithful in the town of Can Tho. Tran Van Soai replied in kind» and in the ensuing weeks Can Tho t

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


became the center of extensive slaughter. French intervention stopped the violence. but turned the Hoa Hao against the French. In April. 1947, the Viet Minh executed Huynh Phu So, which caused Tran Van Soai to rally with 2,000 armed men to the French. He was accepted into the French Expeditionary Corps with the rank of general, and assigned the mission of pacifying his own region. The French from that time forward, until 1955, paid the salaries of the Hoa Hao soldiers. At the time Diem came to office in 1954, the sect had some 1,500.000 believers, controlled most of the Mekong Delta region, and had 10,000 to 15,000 men under arms. 4.

The Viet Minh

In 1954, the Viet Minh controlled some 60 to 90 percent of South Vietnam's villages (by French estimates) and 30 to 40 percent of its territory (by U.S. estimates). The bulk of organized Viet Minh forces were located in Annam and the Highlands, proximate to Tonkin, and in regions free of competition from the armed sects. In Cochinchina, they were militarily strongest in areas along the Cambodian border and in the Camau peninsula of the extreme south remote from the principal concentrations of people. Nonetheless, their political organization was pervasive, and in some localities, e.g., Quang Ngai province in Annam, the Viet Minh were the only effective government. A hierarchy of Viet Minh committees paralleled the formal government from the village Administrative and Resistance Committee (ARC) through district, province, and what the Viet Minh termed "interzone" or "region." No reliable estimates exist of the numbers of cadres involved in this apparatus, but Viet Minh military forces of all types south of the 17th parallel probably numbered around 100,000. When orders were issued for the Geneva regroupment, the "provisional assembly areas" designated coincided with the areas in which Viet Minh strength had been greatest. During the time allowed for collecting forces for the move north, the Viet Minh evidently undertook to bank the fires of revolution by culling out of their units trained and reliable cadres for "demobilization," "recruiting" youth-forcibly in many instances--to take their place, and caching we:apons. Particularly in Annam and the Highlands. then. the Viet Minh posed a significant challenge to Ngo Dinh Diem. His test of strength with the Viet Minh, l1owever, was to be deferred by the Geneva Settlement and DRV policy for some years. 5.


The political prospects of Ngo Dinh Diem when he accepted the premiership from Bao Dai were dimmed not only by Viet Minh residue, and by the existence of the armed sects. but by the taint of colonialism. As far as most Cochinchinese peasants were concerned, Diem was linked to Bao Dai, and to the corrupt. French dominated government he headed. Studies of peasant attitudes conducted in recent years have demonstrated that for many. the struggle which began in 1945 against colonialism continued uninterrupted throughout Diem's regime: in 1954, the foes of nationalists were transformed from France and Bao Dai, to Diem and the U.S.-My-Diem. American-Diem. became the universal term of Viet Cong opprobrium-but the issues at stake never changed. There was. moreover. some substance to the belief that Diem represented no change. in that, although Ngo Dinh Diem took office before the Geneva Settlement as prime minister with "full powers civil and military." he did not acquire actual administrative autonomy until September. 1954; proclaim independence until January. 1955; or take


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command of his army until February, 1955. There was perforce a significant carry-over of civil servants from the pre-Diem days. The national flag and the national anthem remained unchanged. Moreover, the laws remained substantially as they had been: the land-holdings, against which was directed much peasant discontent, were based on pre-Diem law; and old legal proscriptions against nationalist political activities remained on the books during Diem's tenure of office. The onus of colonialism was among the heavy burdens which Ngo Dinh Diem had to shoulder from the outset. B.



Political Origins

Why amid the military disasters of spring 1954, Bao Dai, head of the State of Vietnam, chose Ngo Dinh Diem from among other Vietnamese nationalists to form a government, has long been debated. Diem was an Annamese Catholic who in his youth had some experience in public administration, first as governor of Phan Thiet province, and then Minister of Interior at Bao Dai's Imperial Court in Hue. In 1933 Diem discovered, after a year in the latter office, that reforms he had been promised were being blocked by high French and Annamite officials. He promptly resigned his office and went into political retirement-an act which earned him modest fame for integrity. Through the years of war and distress in his homeland thereafter, Diem had hewed to attentisme, and by refusing public office, had avoided the political discoloration which besmirched more involved Viet nationalists. Bao Dai had sought him for his premier in 1945, Ho Chi Minh for the DRV government in 1946, the French for their "solutions" in 1947 and 1949-all unsuccessfully. Hence, Diem's reputation for incorruptible nationalism, to the extent that he enjoyed one in 1954, was based on an event 20 years old and a long period of political aloofness. He did come from a prominent family; a brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc was a leading Catholic clergyman with countrywide connections, and the family proper retained some considerable influence in Annam. But his personal handicaps were considerable: bachelor, ascetic, shy, inexperienced, he seemed ill-fit for the seething intrigues of Saigon. One school of conjecture holds that the French pressed him upon Bao Dai in the belief that under him the newly independent State of Vietnam would founder; another that Bao Dai advanced him to power convinced that his inevitable failure would eliminate him as a political competitor. There are those who believe that Diem was foisted upon the Vietnamese and the French by a cabal of prominent American Catholics and a CIA agent. It can be said that Diem was relatively well acquainted among leading Americans, and that Bao Dai might correctly have regarded Diem's contacts in the United States as a possible source of support for Vietnam. Whatever the reasons for his selection, however, at the time he took office there were few who regarded Diem as promising, and fewer still openly willing to back him. Indeed, from the time he took office on 7 July 1954, until the following May. he was virtually alone. Unaided by Bao Dai, opposed by the French, and proferred by Americans mainly advice, criticism, and promises-but scant material assistance-Ngo Dinh Diem in ten months surmounted the partition of his nation by the Geneva powers, two threatened military coups by his Army Chiefs of Staff, frenetic clashes with the Binh Xuyen armed sects, the withdrawal of the Viet Minh, and the influx of 900,000 refugees from North Vietnam.

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 2.


Early U.S.-Diem Relations

Diem's durability was one of those surprises in Vietnam which prompted Americans thereafter to refer to the "miracle in Vietnam." On 7 December 1954, Senator Mansfield judged that U.S. "prospects for helping Diem strengthen and uphold South Vietnam look very dim." U.S. Ambassador Heath reported from Saigon on 17 December 1954 a dim view of Diem's chances since "there is every evidence that the French do not want Diem to succeed." In a January. 1955, report to the National Security Council. General J. Lawton Collins agreed with both analyses. On 7 April 1955. Collins cabled from Saigon that: ". . . it is my considered judgment that the man lacks the personal qualities of leadership and the executive ability successfully to head a government that must compete with the unity of purpose and efficiency of the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh." On 19 April. Collins again cabled: "I see no alternative to the early replacement of Diem." On 26 April 1955, U.S. National Intelligence Estimate 63.1-2-55, "Possible Developments in South Vietnam." took the view that: A political impasse exists in Saigon where the legally constituted government of Premier Diem is being challenged by a venal special interest group. the Binh Xuyen, which controls the National Security Police, and is temporarily allied with some elements of the religious sects. . . . Even if the present impasse were resolved, we believe that it would be extremely difficult, at best. for a Vietnamese government, regardless of its composition. to make progress toward developing a strong. stable antiCommunist government capable of resolving the basic social, economic, and political problems of Vietnam, the special problems arising from the Geneva agreement, and capable of meeting the long-range challenge of the Communists. . . . But opinion in Washington swung sharply when, in late April, Diem managed to survive a severe test of arms with his army and the sects. Senators Mansfield and Knowland issued strong statements of support for him, and on May 2 Senator Hubert Humphrey told the Senate that: Premier Diem is the best hope that we have in South Vietnam. He is the leader of his people. He deserves and must have the wholehearted support of the American Government and our foreign policy. This is no time for uncertainty or half-hearted measures. . . . He is the only man on the political horizon of Vietnam who can rally a substantial degree of support of his people. . . . If we have any comments about the leadership in Vietnam let it be directed against Bao Dai. . . . If the Government of South Vietnam has not room for both these men, it is Baa Dai who must go. . . . On 9 May 1955, the Joint Chiefs of Staff judged that "the government of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem shows the greatest promise of achieving the internal stability essential for the future security of Vietnam." Five months later, on 11 October, 1955. the National Intelligence Estimate was revised. In NIB 63.1-3-55, "Probable Developments in Vietnam to July 1956," the U.S. Intelligence Advisory Committee found it possible to be more sanguine concerning Diem's prospects: . . . Diem has made considerable progress toward establishing the first fully independent Vietnamese government. • . . He faced a basically un-


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. I stable and deteriorating situation. . . . The most significant articulate political sentiments of the bulk of the population was an antipathy for the French combined with a personal regard for Ho Chi Minh as the symbol of Vietnamese nationalism. . . . Diem was forced to move slowly. Although possessing considerable national prestige as a patriot, he was inexperienced in administration and was confronted at the outset by the intrigues of Baa Dai and other self-interested individuals and groups. who in many cases benefited from French support. . . . Diem concentrated on eliminating or neutralizing the most important groups and individuals challenging the authority of his government. . . . By bribery. persuasion, and finally force, Diem virtually eliminated the Binh Xuyen and the most important elements of the Boa Hao sects as threats to his authority. At the same time, he maneuvered the Cao Daithe strongest of the sects-into an uneasy alliance. As a result of these successful actions, Diem gained prestige and increased popularity as a symbol of Diem's efforts to establish a viable anti-communist government are still in doubt. . . . Provided the Communists do not exercise their capabilities to attack across the 17th Parallel or to initiate large-scale guerrilla warfare in South Vietnam, Diem will probably make further progress in developing a more effective government. His position will probably be strengthened as a result of increased popular support, the continued loyalty of the VNA, and a deterioration in the strength and cohesiveness of his non-Communist opposition. The national government will probably increase the number of rural communities under its control, particularly in areas now held by the sects. • • .

It is likely that Diem's stormy first 10 months in office, June, 1954 to May, 1955, strongly conditioned his behavior in later years. He must have been impressed almost at once with the political importance of the army, and the essentiality of personally loyal ranking officers. He chose openly to oppose the armed sects against the advice of both his American and French advisers, and his success no doubt instilled confidence in his own judgments. The same events probably gave him reason thereafter to value head-on confrontation with a foe over conciliation or compromise. And in his adamant stand against consultations with the DRV on plebescite, again contrary to initial American advice, he no doubt learned that on major issues the U.S. stake in his future W8.S sufficiently high that he could lead, and American policy would follow. In any event, he moved with new assurance from mid-1955 forward. In many respects his first 300 days were his finest hours, when he was moving alone, rapidly, and with determination against great odds.


Political Concepts: Family Centralism and Personalism But Diem's early victories were essentially negative, in eliminating or bypassing obstacles. It remained for him to provide programs for finding homes and occupations for the refugees, for solving the politically crucial problems of rural land distribution and taxation. for installing capable and incorrupt public administrators, for stimulating the economy, for improving the education system-in short. for coping with the whole broad range of problems of governing a developing nation, each rendered especially acute by South Vietnam's war trauma, internal dissention. and partition from North Vietnam. To cite but a few: 600,000



! ~ t



Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


refugees were dependent on his government for subsistence; 85,000 people were jobless as a result of the French troop withdrawal; inter-provincial communications were impaired-700 miles of main road were war-damaged, one third of the railway trackage lay destroyed, 68 concrete bridges on 860 miles of track lay blown. In devising programs to meet these challenges, Diem worked from two primal concepts: family centralism, and "personalism" as a state philosophy. Diem was raised in a Mandarinal family, born to a tradition of high position in the social hierarchy and governmental bureaucracy. It was also a Catholic family, and Diem received a heritage of obdurate devotion to Christianity under intense persecution-within a century of his birth one hundred relatives had been burned to death by Buddhists in central Annam. His rearing developed his reverence for the past, a capacity for hard work, and a deep seated piety. Two French authors believed that his outlook on life was "born of a profound, of an immense nostalgia for the Vietnamese past, of a desperate filial respect for the society of ancient Annam:" There was some thought of his becoming a priest, but he elected public administration; his elder brother Thuc, the cleric, is said to have speculated that Diem found himself too inflexible, too willful, too severe for the priesthood. But above all else, Diem's early years impressed upon him the importance of family in performing the duties of station: the family was the first means of extending personal power, the essential mode of political expression. It is possible that Diem resorted to nepotism simply because he lacked a personal political apparatus which would have permitted him to operate otherwise, but nepotism became the style of his rule, and it was quite consistent with his upbringing. "Society," said Diem, "functions through personal relations among men at the top." One brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, received the title of Advisor to the President, and controlled the semi-eovert Personalist Labor Revolutionary Party. His wife, Madame Nhu, became the President's official hostess, a deputy in the National Assembly, and the founder-chairman of the Woman's Solidarity Movement. Her father became one of Diem's ambassadors, and his wife the GVN observer at the UN. A second brother of Diem, Ngo Dinh Can, became the virtual overlord of Annam, holding no official position, but ruling the region in all respects. A third brother, N go Dinh Thuc, the Archbishop of Hue and Primate of Vietnam, also held no office, but functioned as Presidential advisor, and levered Catholic opinion on behalf of Diem. A fourth brother, Ngo Dinh Luyen, became an Ambassador. Three family members-Tran Van Chuong, Tran Van Do, and Tran Van Bac-served in Diem's first cabinet, and two other in-laws, Nguyen Huu Chau and Tran Trung Dung, held the key portfolios of Secretary of State at the Presidency and Assistant Secretary of State for National Defense. One of the reasons General Collins opposed Diem may be a letter he received in April, 1955, from a group of nationalists headed by former Premier Nguyen Phan Long, urging the United States to withdraw its support of Diem on the grounds that his brothers were effectively isolating Diem politically. The observation proved to be correct: Ngo Dinh Nhu and Ngo Dinh Can increasingly gathered power into their own hands, and non-family politicians found themselves quietly shunted aside. Gradually, a concentration of power also occurred within the family circle, again toward Nhu, Mme Nhu and Can, and at the expense of the more remotely related. The President's family thus became an entirely extra-legal elite which in class and geographic origin, as well as religion, was distinct from the South Vietnamese as a whole. The Diem family circle was promptly targeted by gossipers. In Saigon, rumors were the political medium, and stories were soon rampant that members


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of the family were looting the government. By 1957, the whispering campaign against the Nhus mounted to such proportions that they issued a public statement denying that they had ever removed money from the country, engaged in financial or commercial speculation, or accepted bribes. But the impression remained, fed by numerous credible reports of official graft at lower levels, that whether or not the Diem family took for personal gain, they took. Another disadvantage proceeded from the Diem's familial concentration of power: bureaucratic overcentralization; Diem himself seems to have been peculiarly at fault in this instance, reserving for himself the power of decision in minute matters, and refusing to delegate authority to subordinates who might have relieved him of a crushing administrative burden. In part, this may have been simply inexperience in handling a large enterprise, but there seems to have been deeper, philosophical reasons-a passion for perfection. a distrust of other men, a conviction that all subordinates required his paternalistic guidance. The result was an impairment of an administrative system already crippled by the absence-c.I ~rench civil servants. Subordinate officials, incapable of making decisions, f~ul of making them, or forbidden to make them, passed upward even minute matters on paper to the brothers Ngo, glutting the communications of government, and imposing long delays on all, even important actions. Personalism, as Diem called his personal political philosophy, was a melange of Asian and European notions which resembled the French Catholic personnalisme of Emmanuel Mounier, or the Encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. More accurately, it was a blend of Christianity, Marxism, and Confucianism which stressed the development of each individual's moral character as the basis for community progress toward democracy. Diem saw himself as a reformer, even a revolutionary, in the moral realm. His central social message was that each citizen achieved moral fulfillment or harmony only if he applied himself energetically to his civic duties, avoiding on the one hand the selfishness of capitalism, and on the other, the selflessness of Marxist collectivism. "The basis for democracy can only be a spiritual one." said Diem in his Message to the National Assembly on the Constitution of 1956, and in New Delhi in 1957, he took Asians to task for losing sight of the spiritual essence of their political traditions: Does not our spirituality of which we are so proud, simply conceal a narrow conservatism and a form of escapism from concrete responsibility? . . . Has not Buddhist compassion become a pretext for not practicing justice . . . And is not tolerance. which so many can mistake for freedom, the result of paternalistic indulgence? And the same year, in Korea, he spoke of his hopes for restoring the spiritual strength of Vietnam after "the tremendous material and political difficulties which assailed Vietnam after Geneva had plunged even the best of her sons into a state of apprehension colored with despair . . ." We pursue two aims. First we want to rearm the Vietnamese citizen morally and to make him impervious to all tyranny whatever its origin. Second, we want to reinforce the spiritual cohesion of the Vietnamese people, cohesion which accounts for capacity to enjoy a largely decentralized system without falling into anarchy. Yet this cohesion has been largely shaken by the impact of the west.


Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


Yet man does not live only by the idea of liberty. He must be given a minimum of material support which will guarantee that liberty • • • A GVN approved biography of Diem explained that he recognized in communism the antithesis of true freedom, precisely because communism denied the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Personalism was the answer therefore to communism, since: Personalism is a system based on the divine, therefore spiritual law, which . . . extols man's transcendent value . . . The practice of Personalism is symbolic of good citizenship with a highly developed civic spirit . . . Late in Diem's reign, when his combat with the communists had been fully joined, these vague precepts were elaborated by his brother, Nhu, but hardly clarified: The personalist conception holds that freedom in an underdeveloped s0ciety is not something that is simply given or bestowed. It can only be achieved through militancy and vigilance, by doing away with all pretentions and pretexts for not realistically applying ourselves to our goals. In a situation of underdevelopment, and during a bleeding war of internal division, it may be argued that there is reason enough not to seek to develop democracy, but our personalist approach is precisely militant in denying this. Human rights and human dignity are not static phenomenons. They are only possibilities which men must actively seek and deserve, not just beg for. In this sense, of believing in the process of constantly perfecting of oneself in moral as well as practical ways our personalist approach is similar to Confucianism. Personalism stresses hard work, and it is the working class, the peasants, who are better able to understand the concept than the intellectuals. We must use Personalist methods to realize democracy at the level where people are fighting and working, and in our new scale of values it is those who participate physically and selflessly in the fight against communism who are most privileged, then those who courageously serve the villages without profit, and finally those who engage diligently in productive labor for their own as well as for their villages' benefit . . . Some American observers found these ideas with their emphasis on "democracy" reassuring. Others, including General Edward Lansdale, urged on Diem a broader ideological strategem of forming a "front" embracing the concepts of the more traditional Viet nationalist parties. "Personalism," like Diem's Spanish-style Catholicism, harbored little tolerance; merely different political theories were interpreted as competitive, and even dangerous. Personalism thus limited Diem's political horizons, and almost certainly impaired his government's ability to communicate with the peasantry. "Personalism" became the official philosophy of the state, and though government employees were required to attend weekly sessions on its tenets, it never succeeded in becoming much more than the cant of Diem's administration, and the credo of the two political parties organized and directly controlled by his family.

302 4.

Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. I Political Parties

The latter were peculiarly Diemist: paternally authoritarian, organized as an extension of family power. The pivotal organization was the Personalist Labor Revolutionary Party (Can Lao Nhan Vi Cach Mang Dang), an apparatus devised and controlled by Ngo Dinh Nhu, semi-covert, self-effacing, but with members stationed at all the levers of power within Saigon, and a web of informants everywhere in the country. Nhu envisaged the Can Lao as the vanguard of Diem's undertakings. and it became in fact the backbone of the regime. Drawing intelligence from agents at all echelons of government in the village, in factories, schools, military units, the Can Lao sought to detect the corrupt or disloyal citizen, and was empowered to bring him to arrest and trial. The Can Lao, unfortunately for Diem's political flexibility, concentrated on disloyalty. Ngo Dinh Nhu, who admitted that the Can Lao closely resembled the communists in organization and technique, used it to stifle all political sentiment competitive or opposed to Ngo Dinh Diem. The other Diemist party was an open, "mass party," the National Revolutionary Movement (Phong Trao each Mang Quoc Gia). Diem himself was the honorary leader of the Party, and. it was the official vehicle for his political movement. The Party claimed to have grown from 10,000 members in 1955 to 1,500,000 in 1959. In that time it acquired a majority in the National Assembly, and amassed strong voting records for Diem and NRM candidates in elections at all levels. The Party claims to have originated in "clandestine struggle for the revolution of national independence and human emancipation" at the time Diem resigned from Bao Dai's government in 1933. but properly it came into being in October, 1954. The NRM was closely associated with the National Revolutionary Civil Servants League (Lien Doan Cong Chuc Mang Quae Gia), and since membership in the latter was a concomitant of government employment, the civil service became the core of the NRM. The relationship also established a NRM-League hierarchy parallel to, and in most instances identical with, the government hierarchy down to the village level. Obviously, too, the arrangement equated a party membership with distinct advantages in dealing with the government. NRM strength figures were probably exaggerated, and its active members -those who attended party functions and political indoctrination sessionswere those in the League; the NRM was, in effect, a party of government employees or dependents. Diem did not involve himself directly in the managing of either the Can Lao or the NRM. The former, as mentioned, was always the creature of Nhu. Nhu also controlled the southern branches of the NRM, but in Annam and portions of the Central Highlands the NRM was the tightly held instrument of Ngo D:~h Can. Can brooked no opposition whatsoever; Nhu, more confident in the regions where the Can Lao was most efficient, occasionally permitted some political activity by minority groups, such as the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, and the Socialists. But that activity was tolerated only so long as it was pro-Diem and supporting, rather than opposing, GVN policy. These were the ideas and the political apparatus by which Ngo Dinh Diem sought to weld together a nation in the aftermath of Geneva. Their narrowness, their inappropriateness for most Cochinchinese and Annamites, virtually assured that the history of his regime, after its initial successes, would become an almost unbroken record of alienation of one portion after another of the Vietnamese body politic. This process of alienation accentuated the failures of the Geneva Settlement, and ultimately led to Ngo Dinh Diem's assassination.

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 C.



Defeat of the Binh X uyen


At the time be took office. Diem controlled scarcely a few blocks of Saigon, the capital remaining firmly in the control of Bay Vien and the Binh Xuyen. Beginning in September, 1954, Diem tried to divide and conquer the sects. Four leaders from each of the religious sects were brought into his cabinet in an effort to isolate the Binh Xuyen, and with U.S. assistance he sought to integrate the sect forces into the national army. He enjoyed some initial success in rallying Cao Dai forces, and confident from assurances of direct American aid, he shut down, in January, 1955, the Binh Xuyen concessions in Saigon and Cholon. In the ensuing confrontation, the Binh Xuyen swung the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao into a United Front of Nationalist Forces, and, although French aid for their forces had formally been withdrawn, continued to draw on French funds and advice. On March 29, 1955, fighting broke in Saigon in which sections of the city were burned. Although a truce was struck, the affair polarized relations between Diem and the sects; between Diem and General Collins, whose advice to conciliate he elected not to follow; and between the Americans and the French, over the viability of Diem. Washington apparently decided at that juncture to temporize with the sects, and to find an alternative to Diem. Before the instructions could be sent to Saigon, however, fighting was renewed. Even as the battle was joined, Bao Dai telegraphed orders to Diem to travel to France. Diem disobeyed, and, convinced of his moral grounds in attacking the Binh Xuyen, committed his forces to combat. His brother, Nhu, coopted a "Revolutionary Committee" to confer emergency authority on Diem. They were immediately successful, and by mid-May, 1955, the Binh Xuyen had been driven into the Rung Sat swamp east of Saigon, and their power in Saigon was broken. Bay Vien escaped to Paris.


Victory over the Sects

Diem's forces then ranged out after the other armed factions. Tran Van Soai of the Hoa Hao surrendered, and was given asylum. Another Hoa Hao leader, Ba Cut-who had cut off a finger to remind himself to fight the French, and had sworn not to cut his hair until Vietnam was reunited-was captured while negotiating surrender in return for a commission as lieutenant general in the ARVN. Other leaders were bribed, and the remainder fled or rallied to the GVN. By the end of 1955, Diem appeared to have dealt finally with the challenge of the sects. It was this apparent success which enabled Diem to survive successfully pressures from an even more powerful set of opponents: those among his Western allies who were determined to replace him. The dimensions of his victory in Vietnam were just becoming evident when in May, 1955, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization convened. There promptly developed a sharp division of view between the French and the Americans. Bao Dai made known his opposition to Diem, and the French threatened to pull out of Vietnam unless Diem were removed. From Paris, Secretary Dulles reported that the French held that: . . . Time something to be done to avoid civil war. France warned that armed conflict-first civil war, then guerrilla warfare, then terrorismwould result if we failed to take action . . . New Revolutionary Committee . . . is strongly under Viet Minh influence . . . There is violent cam-


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paign against French and French Expeditionary Corps. Viet Minh agents make good use of it and certain Americans do not seem sufficiently aware of this. French Govt does not wish to have its army act as platform for Viet Minh propaganda. Army will not be maintained in Vietnam at any cost . . . Continuing with Diem would have three disastrous results: (1) . . . Viet Minh victory (2) . . . focus hostility of everyone on the French. and (3) . • . begin a Franco-U.S. breach . . . The French then proposed to the U.S. that the French Expeditionary Corps be withdrawn, and asked if the U.S. were willing to guarantee French civilians, and the refugees. From Washington, the following instructions to Dulles were returned promptly: President's only comment on Vietnam section of (your telegram) was to reiterate position that U.S. could not afford to have forces committed in such undesirable areas as Vietnam. This, of course, is lCS view in past. Am asking Defense and lCS views . . . Asked, the lCS took the position that the question was fundamentally beyond their purview, that neither the ARVN nor the French Expeditionary Corps seemed capable of preserving the integrity of South Vietnam against a Viet Minh onslaught, and that being debarred from furnishing arms by the Geneva Agreement. the U.S. was in no position to protect French nationals. They suggested that Secretary Dulles be advised that: a. The government of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem shows the greatest promise of achieving the internal stability essential for the future security of Vietnam. b. The U.S. could not guarantee the security of the French nationals should the French Expeditionary Corps be withdrawn. c. Possible United States actions under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty could ultimately afford security to Vietnam equal to that provided by the continued presence of the French Expeditionary Corps. In Paris, Secretary Dulles managed to mollify the French. A key development was a message from Malcolm MacDonald, the British representative in Southeast Asia, urging against Diem's replacement at that time. MacDonald. who was among Diem's severest critics-he once remarked of Diem that "He's the worst prime minister I have ever seen"-aligned the British with Dunes, and eventually the French acquiesced in further support of Diem. The defeat of the sects also opened a domestic political opportunity for Diem. The Popular Revolutionary Committee his brother Nhu had formed during the height of the sect crisis was a "front" of broad political complexion-the membership included prominent nationalists and, as the French had pointed out, two former Viet Minh leaders; it therefore had some substance as what Nhu termed the "democratic revolutionary forces of the nation:' The Revolutionary Committee urged the dissolution of the Bao Dai government, and the organizing of general elections for a National Assembly. Nhu acted under its mandate, setting up a popular referendum in which, on October 23. 1955. an overwhelming vote for Diem in preference to Bao Dai was recorded. The Revolutionary Committee dissolved itself on 31 October. apparently under some pressure from Diem and his brother.

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 3.


The Triumph Reappraised

But it is important to note that Diem's military victory over the sects, while impressive, was by no means complete, and was certainly not as decisive as some Americans were led to believe. For example, an NSC report of 1958 mentioned that the Vietnamese Armed Forces were still operating against the sects, and had "succeeded in practically eliminating the Binh Xuyen and Cao Dai forces. . . .tt The Deputy Chief, MAAG, Vietnam, stated in April, 1959, that: "The Binh Xuyen group was completely eliminated as a menace. The Cao Dai group was pacified or reoriented. • . . The Hoa Hao had been reduced to a handful of the diehards. . . .n These estimates notwithstanding, Binh Xuyen remnants fought off an ARVN force north of Bien Hoa, in 1956, and marauded along the Saigon River north of Saigon in Binh Duong province throughout 1957 and 1958. In 1958, an insurgent force, among whom Binh Xuyen were identified, sacked the Michelin rubber plantations near Dau Tieng, and in March, 1959, ARVN had a number of encounters with Binh Xuyen elements in the Binh Duong-Bien Hoa area. There is evidence, though scanty, which indicates that the Binh Xuyen survivors joined with "communist" groups for their depredations; for example, in the 1958 Michelin attack the combined gangster-communist strength was reported to be 300-400. ARVN General Nguyen Chanh Thi, who fought these particular forces, has told of capturing a Binh Xuyen soldier who died under torture without admitting more than that his band had been communicating with communist forces from Tay Ninh province. The general also described capturing in March, 1959, in the same operations, flags identical to that raised in late 1960 by the "National Liberation Front.' In 1956, the Cao Dai Pope, Pham Cong Tac, crossed the frontier of Tay Ninh into Cambodia with a number of his followers, thence to remain in opposition to Diem. Bay Dom, who had been the deputy of the captured Hoa Hao leader, Ba Cut, also took his forces to the Cambodian border. In 1956, Diem sent Ba Cut, his hair still uncut, to the guillotine. Bay Dom and another Hoa Hao leader, Muoi Tri, then took an oath to avenge Ba Cut, and opened guerrilla warfare against Diem. Some four Hoa Hao battalions are reported to have conducted operations against the GVN continuously through 1962. Muoi Tri in later years openly embraced the Viet Cong cause. In brief, while Diem's victory over the sects was impressive, it was not wholly conclusive, and the very obduracy and determination which won him early tactical success seemed to impede his inducing the remaining sect dissidents to perform a constructive role in the nation. Rather, his policy invited a Viet Congsect alliance against him. That some of the more startling early defeats of Diem's ARVN forces by Viet Cong in 1959 and 1960 occurred in the regions north of Saigon, where lurked Cao Dai and Binh Xuyen remnants, is more than coincidental. D.




Americans tended to look at Diem's skein of military and political successes in 1955 with satisfaction, and to regard thereafter Vietnam's internal security with growing complacency. But Ngo Dinh Diem did not. To the contrary, Diem seemed, if anything, over-eonscious of the fact that his test with the Viet Minh


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lay ahead, and that they posed a threat more dangerous than the sects could ever have been, not only because they were politically more pervasive, end not only because they had taught a generation of Vietnamese peasants the techniques of armed conspiracy, but also because their tenets offered competing solutions to the most pressing problems of the Vietnamese people: land and livelihood. Diem's counter is difficult to fault as a broad concept: ARVN forces would reclaim for the GVN regions formerly held by the Viet Minh; political indoctrination teams moving with the troops would carry the message of Diem's revolution to the people; and then a broad follow-up program of Civic Actionpolitical and social development. land reform, and agricultural improvements would be inaugurated to meet fully the aspirations of the people. That these plans miscarried was due in part to the resistance of the farmers they were intended to benefit, reacting sometimes under Viet Cong leadership, sometimes simply out of peasant conservatism. But a principal portion of the blame for failure must be attributed to Diem's inept, overbearing, or corrupt officials, to Diem's own unremitting anti-communist zeal, and to the failure of both he and his American advisers to appreciate the magnitude of the tasks they set for themselves, or the time required to enact meaningful reform.


Reoccupying 'Viet Minh Territory

The first steps were faltering. In early 1955, ARVN units were sent to establish the GVN in the Camau Peninsula in the southernmost part of the country. Poorly led, ill-trained, and heavy-handed, the troops behaved towards the people very much as the Viet Minh had led the farmers to expect. Accompanying GVN propaganda teams were more effective, assailing communism, colonialism, and feudalism-meaning the rule of Francophile Vietnamese, such as Bao Dai's-e-and distributing pictures of Diem to replace the omnipresent tattered portraits of Ho. A subsequent operation in Quang Nai and Binh Dinh, Operation Giai Phong, reportedly went off more smoothly. Under ARVN Colonel Le Van Kim, the troops behaved well toward the people, and the propagandists exploited Viet Minh errors to the extent that. as the last Viet Minh soldiers marched down toward their ships, the populace jeered them. American advisers were active, and Diem himself visited this operation a week after the last Viet Minh had left, receiving what the Americans present considered a spontaneous welcome by the peasants. Nonetheless, the Cau Mau experience became more typical of the ARVN than the Binh Dinh affair. Foreign observers frequently expressed opinion of the ARVN in terms similar to the 1957 view of correspondent David Hotham, who wrote that "far from giving security, there is every reason to suppose that the army. buttressed by the Civil Guard . . . is regarded by the Southern peasant as a symbol of insecurity and repression:'


Civic Action

Nor were the folJow-up Civic Action teams significantly more effective. These were patterned after the GAM's (Groupes Administratifs Mobiles) with which the French had experimented. modified to incorporate U.S.-Filipino experience. In theory, they were to have been drawn from the urban elite, to help the government establish communications with the rural folk. Acting on the doctrine of "Three Withs: eat. sleep, and work with the people"-some 1400 to 1800 "cadre" undertook: census and surveys of the physical needs of villages; building schools, maternity hospitals, information halls; repairing and enlarging local roads; dig-

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


ging wells and irrigation canals; teaching personal and public hygiene; distributing medicine; teaching children by day, and anti-illiteracy classes by night; forming village militia; conducting political meetings; and publicizing agrarian reform legislation. Colonel Lansdale described their origins and operations as follows: One of the most promising ideas of this period came from Kieu Cong Cung, who was sponsored by Defense Minister Minh. Cung's idea was to place civil service personnel out among the people, in simple dress, where they would help initially by working alongside the people. getting their hands dirty when necessary. The Vietnamese functionaries were aghast, since they cherished their desk work in Saigon and their dignified white-collar authority, and they fought hard within the government machine to kill the idea. It took some months, with the personal intervention and insistence of President Diem, to get a pilot Civic Action program initiated. It was given administrative support by the Ministry of Defense. at first, simply because no other Ministry would help, although it was established as an entity of the Presidency and its policy decisions were made in Cabinet meetings. With 80% of the civil service personnel stationed in the national capital, provincial administrators were so under-staffed that few of them could function with even minimum effectiveness. A French colonial administrative system, super-imposed upon the odd Vietnamese imperial system was still the model for government administration. It left many gaps and led to unusually complex bureaucratic practices. There was no uniform legal code, no uniform procedures for the most basic functions of government. The Communists continued their political dominance of many villages, secretly. Cung established a training center in Saigon and asked for civil service volunteers, for field duty. With none forthcoming, he then selected a small group of young university trained men from among the . . . refugees from Communist North Vietnam after security screening. His training had added realism in the form of rough living quarters, outdoor classes, and students learning to work with their hands by constructing school facilities. All students had to dress in the "calico noir" of fanners and laborers, which became their "uniform" later in the villages. (Provincial authorities originally refused to recognize Civic Action personnel as government officials, due to the plebian dress; Cung, dressed in the same manner, and as a high functionary close to the President, made a rapid tour of the provinces and gained grudging acceptance of this new style of government employee.) Originally, four-man teams were formed; during training, the members of each team were closely observed, to judge their abilities, with the weak and unwilling being weeded out. After graduation, each team was assigned to a district of a province, with responsibility for a number of villages. When the team finished its work in the first village. it would move to a second village, revisiting the first village periodically to check on local progress. This would continue until all villages in a district were covered, at which time the civic action team directly under the government in the provincial capital would take over district work, now organized and ready for administration. When a team entered a village, they would call a village meeting, explain their presence and plans. The following morning, they would set to work to build three community buildings with local materials; if they had been successful in winning over the population, the villagers pitched in and helped.


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One building was a village hall. for meetings of village officials. Another was a primary school. The third was a combination information hall (news, information about the government. etc.) and dispensary (using the village medical kits developed by leA). Following up was the building of roads or paths to link the village with provincial roads. if in a remote area. build pit latrines. undertake malaria control. put in drainage. and undertake similar community projects. Villagers were trained to take over these tasks. including primary education and first aid. The work of Civic Action teams. at the same grass-roots level as that of Communist workers. proved effective. They became the targets of Communist agents, with political attacks (such as stirring up local Cochin-Chinese against Tonkinese Civic Action personnel) and then murders. Even while the field work was in its early development stage. President Diem ordered the teams to start working directly with Army commands in pacification campaigns, as the civil government "troops" in what were essentially combat zones. As Civic Action proved itself, it was extended Ie all provinces south of the 17th Parallel. Had the cadres been able to confine themselves to these missions, and had the several Saigon ministries, whose field responsibilities they had assumed, been content to have them continue to represent them. matters might have developed differently. As it happened. the cadres became preoccupied with Diem's AntiCommunist campaign, and their operations came under bureaucratic attack from Saigon agencies unwilling to allow the Civic Action teams to carry their programs to the people. Both influences converted the cadre into exclusively propagandistic and political instruments, and drew them away from economic or social activities; in late 1956, Civic Action was cut back severely. In 1957, Kieu Cong Cung died, and Nhu absorbed the remnants into his organization. 4.

Land Reform

But the salesmen were less at fault than the product. Diem had to promise much and deliver well to best the Viet Minh. However, his promises were moderate, his delivery on them both slow and incomplete. The anarchy prevalent in the countryside during the First Indochina War had benefited the peasant by driving off the French and Vietnamese large landlords. When the Viet Minh "liberated" an area, they distributed these lands free to the farmers, and generally won their allegiance thereby. Columnist Joseph Alsop visited one such Viet Minh controlled region in December, 1954, just before they withdrew their military forces, and reported that: It was difficult for me, as it is for any Westerner, to conceive of a Communist government's genuinely "serving the people." I could hardly imagine a Communist government that was also a popular government and almost a democratic government. But this was just the sort of government the palmhut state actually was while the struggle with the French continued. The Viet Minh could not possibly have carried on the resistance for one year, let alone nine years, without the people's strong, untied support.

One of Diem's primary failures lay in his inability similarly to capture loyalties among his 90 percent agricultural people. The core of rural discontent was the large land holdings: in 1954 one quarter of one percent of the population owned

Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


forty percent of the rice growing land. The Diem program to ameliorate this situation for the land-hungry peasants took the form of: ( 1) resettlement of refugees and others on uncultivated land, begun in 1955; (2) expropriation of all rice land holdings above 247 acres, and redistribution of these to tenant farmers, a program announced in 1956, but delayed in starting until 1958; and (3) regulation of landlord-tenant relations, effected in 1957, which fixed rents within the range 15-25 percent of crop yield, and guaranteed tenant tenure for 3 to 5 years. Both the resettlement and redistribution programs guaranteed payments to former owners of the appropriated land; although the Iand was reasonably priced, and payment allowed over an extended period. the farmers faced payments. and these immediately aroused opposition. Settlers moved into a wilderness, required to clear and irrigate theretofore unused land, could not see why they should pay for their holdings. Tenant farmers were also disaffected, for though rents of 40 percent of crop had been common before the way, many farmers, after eight or so rent-free years, could see no justice in resuming payments to a long absent owner, particularly since the Viet Minh had assured them the land was theirs by right. Nor were many mollified by redistributed land. Land redistribution suffered according to one American expert, from a "lack of serious, interested administrators and topside command. Government officials, beginning with the Minister for Agrarian Reform, had divided loyalties, being themselves landholders." But even if the goals of the program had been honestly fulfilled-which they were not--only 20% of rice land would have passed from large to small farmers. Ultimately only 10% of all tenant farmers benefited. A bolder program, with a maximum holding of 124 acres, could have put 33 percent of rice land up for transfer. As it happened, however, the distribution program was not only of limited scope, but, by 1958 or 1959, it was virtually inoperative. Bernard Fall has reported that despite Diem's land reforms, 45% of the land remained concentrated in the hands of 2% of landowners, and 75% in the hands of 15%. Moreover, since the immediate beneficiaries were more often than not Northerners, refugees, and Catholics, the programs acquired an aura of GVN favoritism, and deepened peasant alienation. In time there were also rumors of corruption, with widespread allegations that the Diem family had enriched itself through the manipulation of the land transfers. As an example of Diem's rural programs in action at the village level which serves to demonstrate how they fell wide of the mark of meeting rural expectations, that of the village communal land is instructive. After the long period of disrupted public administration during the Franco-Viet Minh War, land records were chaotic. Under Diem, the GVN seized outright nearly half a million acres of land whose title was unclear. Some of this land was rented, the GVN acting as the landlord; some was farmed by ARVN units; and some was converted into communal land and the title passed to village councils. The village councils were then supposed to hold an annual auction of communal land, in which farmers Wishing to use certain plots submitted sealed bids. Although this seemed to the casual western observer an equitable system, in actuality it was quite vicious. The bidding farmers were usually seeking to rent land they had been farming free for years. Whether this were the case or not, however, rice growing is a labor intensive process which requires of the farmer a substantial capital investment year by year to build up dikes and ditches. To assure himself that he would not lose this investment, a man farming a plot declared communal land felt compelled to raise his bid each succeeding year to avoid loss of that capital, and to preclude losing his hard work. The consequent competition, however modem, shook the roots of traditional Asian farming communities, for the


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arrangement had the major disadvantage of creating uncertainty over land from year to year-the antithesis of security for the rice-growing peasant. To cap these disadvantages, village councils were often less than honest, and tended to be considerably less willing than a paternal landlord to tide the farmer over after a bad crop year; if his subsequent bid were low, he lost his land. There is another chapter in the history of GVN-farmer relationships which illustrates similar clumsiness. In 1956, as the GVN launched its land reform program, Ngo Dinh Nhu enlisted the aid of the Confederation of Vietnamese Labor, which had been organizing tenant farmers in promoting the government's policies through its rural representatives. The GVN then proceeded to form its own, NRM-connected, Farmers' Associations. The latter, interconnected with province officials and with landowners, actively opposed the union organizers, with the result that many of the latter were jailed. Within a year or two, the union was destroyed for all practical purposes. Few of the NRM Farmers' Associations ever did function on behalf of the farmers; of 288 associations reported in-being by the GVN, a USOM study in 1961 could find only 35 which represented peasant interersts in any active sense. S.

Village Government

A further example of Diem's maladroitness was his abolishing elections for village councils, a step he took in June, 1956, apparently out of concern that large numbers of former Viet Minh might win office at the village level. The Vietnamese village had traditionally, even under the French, enjoyed administrative autonomy, and the village council was a coterie of prominent residents who were the government in most simple civic matters, adjudicating disputes, collecting taxes, and managing public funds. Under the national regulation of 1956, members of council and the village chief became appointive officials, and their offices subject to scrutiny by the Diemist apparatus. The results were again a thrusting forward of Northern Catholics, city dwellers, or other non-local trustees of the GVN, to assume control at the key political level of South Vietnam, to handle fiscal matters, and to manage the communal lands. For the same reasons that the villagers had mistrusted the Civic Action cadre, they found the GVN officials strange, and not a little incomprehensible. Also, since these officials were the creatures of the province chiefs, corruption at the province level-then, as in recent years, not uncommon-was transmitted directly to the village. Dang Due Khoi, a young nationalist who rose to become Diem's press officer, and then turned against him, regarded Diem's decision to abolish the village councils his vital error: Even if the Viet Minh had won some elections, the danger of doing away with the traditional system of village election was even greater. This was something that was part of the Vietnamese way of life, and the concept should have been retained without interfering with Diem's legitimate desire -indeed, his need-for a strong central government. The security problem existed, but it wouldn't have made much difference if the Viet Minh had elected some village chiefs-they soon established their own underground governments anyway. Diem's mistake was in paralyzing himself. He should have adopted a more intelligent and persuasive policy and concentrated at the outset on obtaining the support of the people. In that way, he could have properly challenged the Viet Minh.

Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 311 Thus, Ngo Dinh began, in 1956. to place the "security problem" ahead of rural revolution. 6.

The Anti-Communist Campaign

Indeed. vocal anti-communism became more central to Diem's rural programs than land reform. Like the Can Lao Party. the GVN borrowed heavily from communist technique in combating the Viet Minh and their residual inftuence-urged on, in some instances at least, by their American advisers. In the summer of 1955. the government launched an Anti-Communist Denunciation Campaign, which included a scheme for classifying the populace into lettered political groups according to attitude toward the Viet Minh. and village ceremonies similar to community self-criticism sessions. Viet Minh cadres and sympathizers would appear before the audience to swear their disavowal of communism. The penitents would tell tales of Viet Minh atrocities. and rip or trample a suitable Viet Minh symbol. In February. 1956. tens of thousands of Saigon citizens assembled to witness the "conversion" of 2,000 former Viet Minh cadres. Tran Chanh Tanh, head of the GVN Department of Information and Youth. announced in May. 1956. that the campaign had "entirely destroyed the predominant communist influence of the previous nine years." According to his figures. 94,041 former communist cadres had rallied to the GVN, 5,613 other cadres had surrendered to government forces, 119,954 weapons had been captured. 75 tons of documents, and 707 underground arms caches had been discovered. One Saigon newspaper boldly referred to Tanh's proceedings as a "puppet shown-for which it was closed down. What relationship GVN statistics bore to reality is not known. However, for many peasants the Anti-Communist Campaign was considerably more than theatrics. Diem, in a Presidential Ordinance of January 11. 1956, expanded upon an existing system of political re-education centers for communists and active communist supporters. The 1956 order authorized the arrest and detention of anyone deemed dangerous to the safety of the state, and their incarceration in one of several concentration camps. The Secretary of State for Information disclosed in 1956 that 15.000 to 20,000 communists had been in these centers since 1954, a figure probably low at the time. and undoubtedly raised thereafter. On May 6, 1959, the GVN promulgated Law 10/59, which stiffened penalties for communist affiliations, and permitted trial of accused by special military tribunals. That year Anti-Communist Denunciation was also stepped up. In 1960, a GVN Ministry of Information release stated that 48.250 persons had been jailed between 1954 and 1960, but a French observer estimates the numbers in jail at the end of 1956 alone at 50,000. P. J. Honey. who was invited by Diem to investigate certain of the reeducation centers in 1959. reported that on the basis of his talks with former inmates. "the consensus of the opinions expressed by these people is that . . . the majority of the detainees are neither communists nor pro-communists:' The Anti-Communist Campaigns targeted city-dwellers, but it was in the rural areas. where the Viet Minh had been most strong. that it was applied most energetically. For example. in 1959 the Information Chief of An Xuyen Province (Cau Mau region) reported that a five week Anti-Communist Campaign by the National Revolutionary Movement had resulted in the surrender of 8.125 communist agents. and the denunciation of 9.806 other agents and 29~978 sympathizers. To furnish the organization and spark enthusiasm for such undertakings. Ngo Dinh Nhu organized in 1958 the Republican Youth. which with Madame


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Nhu's Solidarity Movement. became a vehicle for rural paramilitary training. political. and intelligence activities. Nhu saw the Republican Youth as a means for bringing "controlled liberty" to the countryside. and it seems certainly to have assisted in extending his control. The GVN also tried to reorganize rural society from the family level up on the communist cellular model. Each family was grouped with two to six others into a Mutual Aid Family Group (lien gia). and a like number of lien gia comprised a khom. There was an appointed chief for both. serving as a chain of command for the community. empowered to settle petty disputes. and obligated to pass orders and information down from the authorities. Each lien gia was held responsible for the political behavior of its members. and was expected to report suspicious behavior (the presence of strangers. unusual departures. and like events). Each house was required to display on a board outside a listing of the number and sex of its inhabitants. These population control measures were combined with improved systems of provincial police identification cards and fingerprinting. The central government thus became visible-and resented-at the village level as it had never been before in Vietnam. 7.

Population Relocation

Security and control of the populace also figured in GVN resettlement plans. Even the refugee relief programs had been executed with an eye to national security. Diem visualized a "living wall" of settlers between the lowland populace and the jungle and mountain redoubts of dissidents. From flying trips, or from military maps, he personally selected the sites for resettlement projects (Khu Dinh Dien)-often in locales deprived of adequate water or fertile soil-to which were moved pioneering communities of Northern refugees, or settlers from the over-crowded Annam coast. Between April 1951 and late 1961. one GVN report showed 210.000 persons resettled in 147 centers carved from 220,000 acres of wilderness. Some of the resentments over payments for resettled virgin land were mentioned above. More importantly, however. these "strategic" programs drew a disproportionate share of foreign aid for agriculture; by U.S. estimates. the 2% of total population affected by resettlement received 50% of total aid. The resettlements precipitated unexpected political reactions from the Montagnard peoples of the Central Vietnam Highlands. The tribes were traditionally hostile to the Vietnamese. and proved to be easily mobilized against the GVN. In 1959 the GVN began to regroup and consolidate the tribes into defensible communities to decrease their vulnerability to anti-government agents, and to ease the applying of cultural uplift programs. By late ) 961 these relocations were being executed on a large scale. In Kontum Province, for instance. 35,000 tribesmen were regrouped in autumn 1961. about 50 percent of its total Montagnard population. Some of the hill people refused to remain in their new communities. but the majority stayed. In the long run. the relocations probably had the effect of focusing Montagnard discontent against the GVN, and facilitating, rather than hindering, the subversion of the tribes. But the relocations which catalyzed the most widespread and dangerous antiGVN sentiment were those attempted among the South Vietnamese farmers beginning in 1959. In February, 1959. a pilot program of political bifurcation was quietly launched in the areas southwest of Saigon which had been controlled by the Viet Minh. Its objective was to resettle peasants out of areas where GVN police or military forces could not operate routinely. into new, policed communi-

Origins oj the Insurgency in South Viemam, 1954-1960


ties of two distinct political colorations. Into one type of these "rural agglomerations," called qui khu, where grouped families with relatives among the Viet Minh or Viet Cong, or suspected of harboring pro-Viet Cong sentiments. Into another type. called qui ap. where grouped GVN-oriented families. Security was the primary reason for selecting the sites of these communities. which meant that in many instances the peasants were forced to move some distance from their land. The French had attempted. on a small scale. such peasant relocations in 1953 in Tonkin; Diem encountered in 1959. as had they. stiff resistance from the farmers over separation from their livelihood and ancestral landhold. But Diem's plan also aroused apprehensions during qui khu designates over the AntiCommunist Campaign. With a rare sensitivity to rural protest. the GVN suspended the program in March. 1959. after only a month. In July. 1959, however. Diem announced that the GVN was undertaking to improve rural standards of living through establishing some 80 "prosperity and density centers" (khu tru mal). These "agrovilles" were to be located along a "strategic route system"-key roads, protected by the new towns. Some 80 agrovilles were to be built by the end of 1963, each designed for 400 families (2.000 to 3.000 people). and each with a surrounding cluster of smaller agrovilles for 120 families. The GVN master plan provided for each community defense. schools. dispensary. market center. public garden-even electricity. The new communities seemed to offer the farmers many advantages. and the GVN expected warm support. But the peasants objected to the agrovilles even more sharply than they had the earlier experiment. The agrovilles were supposed to be constructed:! peasants themselves; Corvee labor was resor.ed to, and thousands of Re ublican Youth were imported to help. For example. at one site-Vi Thanh ar Can Tho--20.000 peasants were assembled from four districts, many more than the number who could expect to profit directly from the undertaking. Moreover. even most of those who were selected to move into agrovilles they had helped build, did so unwillingly. for it often meant abandoning a cherished ancestral home. tombs. and developed gardens and fields for a strange and desolate place. The settler was expected to tear down his old house to obtain materials for the new, and received GVN aid to the extent of a grant of $5.50. and an agricultural loan to assist him in paying for his allotted 1.5 acres of land near the agroville. Peasant resistance. and then insurgent attacks on the agrovilles, caused abandonment of the program. with only 22 out of 80 communities completed. The agroville program was eventually superseded by the GVN strategic hamlet program, formally launched by President Diem in February. 1962. which avoided the mistake of trying to erect whole new communities from the ground up. Rather, the plan aimed at fortifying existing villages. but did include provisions for destroying indefensible hamlets. and relocation of the inhabitants into more secure communities. The strategic hamlet. ap chien luoc, also eschewed elaborate social or economic development schemes, concentrating on civil defense through crude fortifications and organizing the populace to improve its military capability and political cohesiveness. In some exposed sites, "combat hamlets" were established, with a wholly militarized population. High goals were established, the GVN announcing that by 1963 some 11,000 of the country's 16.000-17.000 hamlets would be fortified. In this instance. as before. the GVN encountered opposition from the peasants, and as before, the insurgents attacked it vigorously. Despite its relative sophistication. the strategic hamlet program. like its predecessors. drove a wedge not between the insurgents and the farmers but between the farmers and the GVN. and eventuated in less rather than more security in the countryside.


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Rural Security Forces Security was the foremost consideration of the GVN's rural programs, and American aid was lavished on the GVN security apparatus in general. It is surprising, therefore, that the GVN tolerated so ineffective a security apparatus at the village level. The Self-Defense Corps (SOC) and the Civil Guard (CG), charged with rural security, were poorly trained and equipped, miserably led, and incapable of coping with insurgents; they could scarcely defend themselves. much less the peasantry. Indeed, they proved to be an asset to insurgents in two respects: they served as a source of weapons; and their brutality, petty thievery, and disorderliness induced innumerable villagers to join in open revolt against the GVN. Nor was the ARVN much better, although its conduct improved over the years; in any event, the ARVN seldom was afield, and its interaction with the rural populace through 1959 was relatively slight. It should be noted that the SDC and the CG, the security forces at the disposal of the provincial administration, were often no more venal nor offensive to the peasants than the local officials themselves. Corrupt, arrogant, and overbearing, the men the people knew as the GVN were among the greatest disadvantages of the GVN in its rural efforts. E.


The rigidity of GVN rural political policy was mirrored in the cities: the regime became preoccupied with security to the exclusion of other concerns. with the result that step by step it narrowed its active or potential supporters, aroused increasing fears among its critics, and drove them toward extremism. In a step similar to that he took on village council elections, Oiem abolished elections for municipal councils in 1956. The Anti-Communist ~ -nunciation Campaign had its urban counterpart. but communist strength in the . .rench-occupied cities had been less than in the countryside. Opposition to Diem formed around the old nationalist movements. including the pro-Bao Dai groups Diem labeled "feudalists," around intellectual and individual professional politicians. and eventually around military leaders. Diem's policies successively alienated each. 1.



The Civic Action teams which Diem projected into the former Viet Minh areas in 1955 trumpeted against "Communism, Colonialism, and Feudalism," the last inveighing against Baa Dai, who was. at the time, still Head of state. "Feudalist" was one epithet applied sweepingly to the religious sects, and to all those whose position or fortune depended upon Baa Dai, from the Binh Xuyen who had purchased its control over Saigon-Cholon from the Emperor. to civil servants and army officers loyal to Baa Dai. The label was virtually as damning as "Communist" in incurring the ungentle attentions of Nhu or Can. In the early years "feudalists" and "ccmmunists" were often tarred by the same brush. For example, the Anti-Communist Denunciation Campaign got underway in Quang Tri Province in 1955, under Ngo Dinh Can. But Can was also in pursuit of the anticommunist Dai Viet (Great Vietnam) Party there, which had armed units and, for a time, an anti-government radio station. As with the communists, many Dai Viet were killed. imprisoned. or driven into exile. Diem's defeat of Bao Dai at the polls in October, 1955, strengthened his hand against pro-Bao Dai groups.

Origins oj the Insurgency in South "Vietnam, 1954-1960 315 With the withdrawal of the French the following spring, it became imprudent for any politician or group who wished to avoid Can Lao and NRM scrutiny to maintain ties with "feudalists" in hiding in Vietnam, or operating from abroad. Despite the fact that opposition Vietnamese nationalist parties had been strongly influenced in their organization and methods by the Kuomintang, they had never developed sufficient internal discipline, cohesion or following to admit of challenging Diem after 1956. Such opposition political forces as developed centered around individuals. (Only two non-Diem, non-communist political parties survived the Diem era: the Nationalist Party of Greater Vietnam (Doi "Viet Qhoc Dan Dang, the Dai Viet) and the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, the VNQDDÂť. 2.

Dr. Dan

Until November, 1960, Diem's most prominent political opponent was Doctor Phan Quang Dan. Dr. Dan was a northern physician who had been caught up in nationalist politics in 1945, and lived in exile after 1947. He returned to Vietnam in September, 1955, to head up a coalition of opposition to the GVN arrangements for the March. 1956, elections for the National Assembly. He was arrested on the eve of those elections, accused of communist and colonialist activities, and though released. deprived of his position at the University of Saigon Medical School. His subsequent political career underscores the astringent nature of Diem's democracy. In May, 1957 Dr. Dan formed another opposition coalition, the Democratic bloc, which acquired a newspaper called Thai Luan. Thai Luan became the best-selling newspaper in South Vietnam (aU papers were published in Saigon, except Can's government paper in Hue), with a circulation of about 80,000 copies. After a series of statements critical of the GVN, Thai Luan was sacked by a mob in September, 1957. Unheeding of that warning, the paper continued an opposition editorial policy until March, 1958, when the GVN closed the paper, and gave the editor a stiff fine and a suspended prison sentence for an article including the following passage: What about your democratic election? During the city-council and village council elections under the "medieval and colonialist" Nguyen Van Tam Administration [under Bao-Dai, in 1953], constituents were threatened and compelled to vote; but they were still better than your elections, because nobody brought soldiers into Saigon by the truckload "to help with the voting." What about your presidential regime? You are proud for having created for Viet-Nam a regime that you think is similar to that of the United States. If those regimes are similar, then they are as related as a skyscraper is to a tin-roofed shack, in that they both are houses to live in. In the U.S.A., Congress is a true parliament and Congressmen are legislators, i.e., free and disinterested men who are not afraid of the government, and who know their duties and dare to carry them out. Here the deputies are political functionaries who make laws like an announcer in a radio station, by reading out loud texts that have been prepared [for them] beforehand. . • . A month later, the Democratic Bloc collapsed. Dr. Dan attempted to obtain GVN recognition for another party, the Free Democratic Party, and permission


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to publish another paper. No GVN action was ever taken on either application, but a number of Dr. Dan's followers in the new party were arrested. When in March, 1959, the newspaper Tin Bac published an article by Dr. Dan. it was closed down. In June, 1959, the newspaper Nguoi Viet Tu Do was similarly indiscreet, and met the same fate. In August. 1959, Dr. Dan ran for a seat in the National Assembly, was elected by a six-to-one margin over Diem's candidate unning against him. but was disqualified by court action before he could take his sat, Dr. Dan's career of opposition to Diem ended in November. 1960. when ••e became the political adviser to the group who attempted a coup d'etat. Dan was arrested and jailed. and remained there until the end of the Diem regime three years later. 3.

The Caravelle Group. 1960

But Dr. Dan was an exceptionally bold antagonist of Diem. No other politician dared what he did. Even he, however. was unable to bring any unity to the opposition. Such other leaders as there were distrusted Dan. or feared the GVN. There was. however. one occasion in the spring of 1960 when opposition to Diem did coalesce. There was change in the international political winds that year-a students' revolt in Korea. an army revolt in Turkey, demonstrations in Japan which resulted in cancellation of President Eisenhower's planned visit. Diem remembered 1960 well, as a "treasure chest for the communists." The United States press and the world press started saying that democracy was needed in the under-developed countries. This came just in time for the communists, Some of the United States press even incited people to rebellion. That year was the worst we have ever had . . . We had problems on all fronts. On the one hand we had to fight the communists. On the other. we had to deal with the foreign press campaign to incite rebellion vis-a-vis Korea. These were sore anxieties. for some unbalanced people here thought it was time to act. Teachers in the private secondary schools began to incite the students to follow the example of the Korean students. And then there were our amateur politicians who were outdated and thought only of taking revenge. . . . The last reference was to the Caravelle Group, who issued at the Caravelle Hotel in late April, 1960, a "manifesto" of grievances against the GVN. The eighteen signers were all old-time politicans, leaders of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, the Dai Viet and the VNQDD parties, and dissenting Catholic groups. Eleven had been Cabinet ministers; four had been in other high government positions. They organized themselves as the Bloc for Liberty and Progress, with a platform of constitutional revision toward greater power for the National Assembly against the Presidency. Dr. Dan could not be induced to join the Caravelle Group, but in the Diem cleanup after the November, 1960 coup attempt. the GVN arrested most of the eighteen, and their Bloc disintegrated. The Caravelle Manifesto is reproduced below: MANIFESTO OF THE EIGHTEEN The President of the Republic of Viet-Nam Saigon Mr. President: We the undersigned, representing a group of eminent citizens and personalities, intellectuals of all tendencies, and men of good will, recognize in the

Origins 01 the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 317 face of the gravity of the present political situation that we can no longer remain indifferent to the realities of life in our country. Therefore. we officially address to you today an appeal with the aim of exposing to you the whole truth in the hope that the government will accord it all the attention necessary so as to urgently modify its policies, so as to remedy the present situation and lead the people out of danger. Let us look toward the past. at the time when you were abroad. For eight or nine years. the Vietnamese people suffered many trials due to the war: They passed from French domination to Japanese occupation. from revolution to resistance. from the nationalist imposture behind which hid communism to a pseudo-independence covering up for colonialism; from terror to terror. from sacrifice to sacrifice-in short. from promise to promise. until finally hope ended in bitter disillusion. Thus. when you were on the point of returning to the country. the people as a whole entertained the hope that it would find again under your guidance the peace that is necessary to give meaning to existence. to reconstruct the destroyed homes. put to the plow again the abandoned lands. The people hoped no longer to be compelled to pay homage to one regime in the morning and to another at night. not to be the prey of the cruelties and oppression of one faction; no longer to be treated as coolies; no longer to be at the mercy of the monopolies; no longer to have to endure the depredations of corrupt and despotic civil servants. In one word. the people hoped to live in security at last. under a regime which would give them a little bit of justice and liberty. The whole people thought that you would be the man of the situation and that you would implement its hopes. That is the way it was when you returned. The Geneva Accords of 1954 put an end to combat and to the devastations of war. The French Expeditionary Corps was progressively withdrawn. and total independence of South Viet Nam had become a reality. Furthermore, the country had benefited from moral encouragement and a substantial increase of foreign aid from the free world. With so many favorable political factors. in addition to the blessed geographic conditions of a fertile and rich soil yielding agricultural, forestry. and fishing surpluses. South Viet Nam should have been able to begin a definitive victory in the historical competition with the North. so as to carry out the will of the people and to lead the country on the way to hope. liberty. and happiness. Today. six years later. having benefited from so many undeniable advantages. what has the government been able to do? Where has it led South Viet Nam? What parts of the popular aspirations have been implemented? Let us try to draw an objective balance of the situation. without flattery or false accusations. strictly following a constructive line which you yourself have so often indicated. in the hope that the government shall modify its policies so as to extricate itself from a situation that is extremely dangerous to the very existence of the nation, Policies In spite of the fact that the bastard regime created and protected by colonialism has been overthrown and that many of the feudal organizations of factions and parties which oppress the population were destroyed, the people do not know a better life or more freedom under the republican regime which you have created. A constitution has been established in form only;


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. I a National Assembly exists whose deliberations always fall into line with the government; antidemocratic elections-all those are methods and "comedies" copied from the dictatorial Communist regimes, which obviously cannot serve as terms of comparison with North Viet Nam. Continuous arrests fill the jails and prisons to the rafters, as at this precise moment; public opinion and the press are reduced to silence. The same applies to the popular will as translated in certain open elections, in which it is insulted and trampled (as was the case, for example, during the recent elections for the Second Legislature). All these have provoked the discouragement and resentment of the people. Political parties and religious sects have been eliminated. "Groups" or "movements" have replaced them. But this substitution has only brought about new oppressions against the population without protecting it for that matter against Communist enterprises. Here is one example: the fiefs of religious sects, which hitherto were deadly for the Communists, now not only provide no security whatever but have become favored highways for Viet Minh guerrillas, as is, by the way, the case of the rest of the country. This is proof that the religious sects, though futile, nevertheless constitute effective anti-Communist elements. Their elimination has opened the way to the Viet Cong and unintentionally has prepared the way for the enemy, whereas a more realistic and more flexible policy could have amalgamated them all with a view to reinforcing the anti-Communist front. Today the people want freedom. You should, Mr. President, liberalize the regime, promote democracy, guarantee minimum civil rights, recognize the opposition so as to permit the citizens to express themselves without fear, thus removing grievances and resentments, opposition to which now constitutes for the people their sole reason for existence. When this occurs, the people of South Viet Nam, in comparing their position with that of the North, will appreciate the value of true liberty and of authentic democracy. It is only at that time that the people will make all the necessary efforts and sacrifices to defend that liberty and democracy. Administration The size of the territory has shrunk, but the number of civil servants has increased, and still the work doesn't get done. This is because the government, like the Communists, lets the political parties control the population, separate the elite from the lower echelons, and sow distrust between those individuals who are "affiliated with the movement" and those who are "outside the group." Effective power, no longer in the hands of those who are usually responsible, is concentrated in fact in the hands of an irresponsible member of the "family," from whom emanates all orders; this slows down the administrative machinery, paralyzes all initiative, discourages good will. At the same time, not a month goes by without the press being full of stories about graft impossible to hide; this becomes an endless parade of illegal transactions involving millions of piastres. The administrative machinery, already slowed down, is about to become completely paralyzed. It is in urgent need of reorganization. Competent people should be put back in the proper jobs; discipline must be re-established from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy; authority must go hand in hand with responsibility; efficiency, initiative, honesty, and the economy should be the criteria for promotion; professional qualifications should be re-

319 spected. Favoritism based on family or party connections should be banished; the selling of influence, corruption and abuse of power must be punished. Thus, everything still can be saved, human dignity can be reestablished; faith in an honest and just government can be restored. Army The French Expeditionary Corps has left the country, and a republican army has been constituted, thanks to American aid, which has equipped it with modern materiel. Nevertheless, even in a group of the proud elite of the youth such as the Vietnamese Army-where the sense of honor should be cultivated, whose blood and arms should be devoted to the defense of the country, where there should be no place for clannishness and factions-the spirit of the "national revolutionary movement" or of the "'personalist body" divides the men of one and the same unit, sows distrust between friends of the same rank, and uses as a criterion for promotion fidelity toward the party in blind submission to its leaders. This creates extremely dangerous situations, such as the recent incident of Tay-Ninh.· The purpose of the army, pillar of the defense of the country, is to stop foreign invasions and to eliminate rebel movements. It is at the service of the country only and should not lend itself to the exploitation of any faction or party. Its total reorganization is necessary. Clannishness and party obedience should be eliminated; its moral base strengthened; a noble tradition of national pride created; and fighting spirit, professional conscience, and bravery should become criteria for promotion. The troops should be encouraged to respect their officers, and the officers should be encouraged to love their men. Distrust, jealousy, rancor among colleagues of the same rank should be eliminated. Then in case of danger, the nation will have at its disposal a valiant army animated by a single spirit and a single aspiration: to defend the most precious possession-our country, Viet Nam. Economic and Social Affairs A rich and fertile country enjoying food surpluses; a budget which does not have to face military expenditures, ** important war reparations; substantial profits from Treasury bonds; a colossal foreign-aid program; a developing market capable of receiving foreign capital investments-those are the many favorable conditions which could make Viet Nam a productive and prosperous nation. However, at the present time many people are out of work, have no roof over their heads, and no money. Rice is abundant but does not sell; shop windows are well-stocked but the goods do not move. Sources of revenue are in the hands of speculators-who use the Igovernment) party and group to mask monopolies operating for certain private interests. At the same time, thousands of persons are mobilized for exhausting work, compelled to leave their own jobs, homes and families, to participate in the construction of magnificent but useless "agrovilles" which weary them and provoke their disaffection, thus aggravating popular resentment and creating an ideal terrain for enemy propaganda. • This refers to the penetration of the compound of the 32d ARVN Regiment in January, 1960, when communist forces killed 23 soldiers and captured hundreds of weapons. •• The military expenditures of the Vietnamese budget are paid out of U.s. economic Origins 01 the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960

and military aid.


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. I The economy is the very foundation of society, and public opinion ensures the survival of the regime. The government must destroy all the obstacles standing in the way of economic development; must abolish all forms of monopoly and speculation; must create a favorable environment for investments coming from foreign friends as well as from our own citizens; must encourage commercial enterprises, develop industry, and create jobs to reduce unemployment. At the same time, it should put an end to all forms of human exploitation in the work camps of the agroviUes. Then only the economy will flourish again; the citizen will find again a peaceful life and will enjoy his condition; society will be reconstructed in an atmosphere of freedom and democracy. Mr. President, this is perhaps the first time that you have heard such severe and disagreeable criticism-so contrary to your own desires. Nevertheless, sir, these words are strictly the truth, a truth that is bitter and hard, that you have never been able to know because, whether this is intended or not, a void has been created around you, and by the very fact of your high position, no one permits you to perceive the critical point at which truth shall burst forth in irresistible waves of hatred on the part of a people subjected for a long time to terrible suffering and a people who shall rise to break the bonds which hold it down. It shall sweep away the ignominy and all the injustices which surround and oppress it. As we do not wish, in all sincerity, that our Fatherland should have to live through these perilous days, we-without taking into consideration the consequences which our attitude may bring upon us-are ringing today the alarm bell, in view of the imminent danger which threatens the government. Until now, we have kept silent and preferred to let the Executive act as it wished. But now time is of the essence; we feel that it is our duty-and in the case of a nation in turmoil even the most humble people have their share of responsibility-to speak the truth, to awaken public opinion, to alert the people, and to unify the opposition so as to point the way. We beseech the government to urgently modify its policies so as to remedy the situation, to defend the republican regime, and to safeguard the existence of the nation. We hold firm hope that the Vietnamese people shall know a brilliant future in which it will enjoy peace and prosperity in freedom and progress. Yours respectfully, 1. TRAN VAN VAN, Diploma of Higher Commercial Studies, former Minister of Economy and Planning 2. PHAN KHAC SUU, Agricultural Engineer, former Minister of Agriculture, former Minister of Labor 3. TRAN VAN HUONG, Professor of Secondary Education, former Prefect of Saigon-Cholon 4. NGUYEN, LUU VIEN, M.D., former Professor at the Medical School, former High Commissioner of Refugees S. HUYNH-KIM HUU, M.D., former Minister of Public Health 6. PHAN HUY QUAT, M.D., former Minister of National Education, former Minister of Defense 7. TRAN VAN LY, former Governor of Central Viet-Nam 8. NGUYEN TIEN HY, M.D. 9. TRAN VAN DO, M.D., former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of Vietnamese Delegation to the 1954 Geneva Conference

Origins 01 the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 321 10. LE NGOC CHAN. Attorney at Law. former Secretary of State for National Defense 11. LE QUANG LUAT, Attorney at Law, fonner Government Delegate for North Viet-Nam. former Minister of Information and Propaganda 12. LUONG TRaNG TUONG. Public Works Engineer, former Secretary of State for National Economy 13. NGUYEN TANG NGUYEN. M.D., former Minister of Labor and Youth 14. PHAM HUU CHUaNG. M.D., former Minister of Public Health and Social Action 15. TRAN VAN TUYEN. Attorney at Law, former Secretary of State for Information and Propaganda 16. TA CHUaNG PHUNG, former Provincial Governor for Binh-Dinh 17. TRAN LE CHAT, Laureate of the Triennial Mandarin Competition of 1903 18. HO VAN VUI, Reverend, former Parish Priest of Saigon, at present Parish Priest of Tha-La, Province of Tay-Ninh The November. 1960, coup marked the end of opposition by professional politicians against Diem. In fact, all the Caravelle group were arrested and jailed. Such political activity among them as occurred in 1962 and 1963 was perforce subdued to the point that it captured attention neither from opponents of Diem. nor Diem himself. But 1960 was altogether too late for effective "loyal opposition" to form. By that time the GVN's ability to control the press. to manage demonstrations, to limit travel, and to imprison (and worse) at will, had virtually paralyzed the intellectual elite of Vietnam. Nor were labor unions politically active. despite their power potential. As early as 1956 the GVN had become alarmed over Communist influence in rubber workers' unions in Binh Duong Province, and had arrested union leaders. Farmers' unions were crippled by arrests of union cadre, and the Can Lao proved itself quite capable of engineering elections within the unions as effectively as it rigged those for the National Assembly. The threat to Diem, when it came. arose from more traditional sources of power-the religious sects and the armed forces. Religious Dissenters Diem's clash with the armed sects in 1954 and 1955 had the unfortunate political consequence of casting his regime in religious overtones which deepened as the Ngo Dinh Catholicism became more widely known. Together with Diem's obvious U.S. backing, these had the effect of accentuating his Occidental, and especially American, identity. The British Catholic writer and commentator on Vietnam, Graham Greene, observed in 1955 that: It is Catholicism which has helped to ruin the government of Mr. Diem, for his genuine piety has been exploited by his American advisers until the Church is in danger of sharing the unpopularity of the United States. An unfortunate visit by Cardinal Spellman . . . has been followed by those of Cardinal Gillroy and the Archbishop of Canberra. Great sums are spent on organized demonstrations for visitors, and an impression is given that the Catholic Church is occidental and an ally of the United States in the cold war. . . . In the whole of Vietnam the proportion of Catholics to the population is roughly the same as in England-one in ten, a ratio insufficient to justify a Catholic government. Mr. Diem's ministers are not all Catholic. but Mr.



Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1 Diems justifiably suspicious of many of his supporters, has confined the actual government to himself and members of his family. He undertakes personally the granting of exit and entry visas. . . . The south, instead of confronting the totalitarian north with evidences of freedoms had slipped into an inefficient dictatorship: newspapers suppressed, strict censorships men exiled by administrative order and not by judgment of the courts. It is unfortunate that a government of this kind should be identified with one faith. Mr. Diem may well leave his tolerant country a legacy of anti-Catholicism. . . .

While Vietnam has an ample record of religious intolerance--especiaUy intolerance for Catholics-calling into question Mr. Greene's contrary characterization, his prediction of Diem's impact proved correct. Open opposition to his government by civilians finally manifested itself on the issue of "religous freedom" in Hue and Saigon in 1963. coalescing around militant Buddhists and students-a-two groups that were. theretofore, for all practical purposes politically mute. There is no doubts however, that Diem's Catholicism from 1954 on acted to his disadvantage among the non-Catholic masses, and enhanced the My-Diem image of his government's being an instrument of alien power and purpose. F.


The soldiers of Vietnam presented Diem with his first. and his last political challenges, Part of the Army's political involvement stemmed from patent military inefficiency in Diem's tight control. for which RVNAF leaders correctly held Diem responsible. Part also correctly can be attributed to vaulting ambition and venality among certain of Diem's officers. And since the United States paid, schooled. and advised the RVNAF, it would also be correct to consider the U.S, involved, if not responsible. The record of Diem's relations with RVNAF. like his relations with other parts of Vietnamese society, is a history of increasing tensions. and of lowering mutual understanding and support. 1.

Clashes with Francophiles, 1954-1955

Diem's first interactions with his army were inauspicious. From September to Novembers 1954. Army Chief of Staff General Nguyen Van Hinh-a French citizen who held a commission in the French Air Force seemed on the verge of overthrowing Diem. Diem ordered Hinh out of the country; Hinh defied him. An apparent coup d'etat in late October was blocked by adroit maneuvering by Colonel Landsdale, and by assurance from General Collins to Hinh that American support would be promptly withdrawn from Vietnam were his plot to succeed. As Hinh recalled it: I had only to lift my telephone and the coup d'etat would have been over. . . . Nothing could have opposed the army. But the Americans Jet me know that if that happened. dollar help would be cut off. That would not matter to the military. If necessary. we soldiers could go barefoot and eat rice but the country cannot survive without American help. Diem removed Hinh on 29 November ) 954. The Acting Chief of Staff. General Nguyen Van Diem found "insufficiently submissive," and replaced him on 12 December 1954 with General Le Van Ty, kicking Vy upstairs to be Inspector


Origins 01 the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


General. In April 1955, during the turmoil of the sect rebellion, Bao Dai attempted to appoint Vy as Chief of Staff with full military powers, and to recall Diem to France. As Diem committed his army to battle with the sef"ts, Vy announced that. in the name of Bao Dai, and with the backing of all but ten percent of the Army, he had assumed control of the government. However, General Ty, Diem's Chief of Staff, remained loyal, rallied key local commanders around Diem, and Vy fled. Within weeks both Generals Hinh and Vy were afield against Diem in the Mekong Delta, maneuvering a disparate army of Hoa Hao, French "deserters," and others-Diem's forces again beat them, and both then went into exile. 2.


Public Administration

What Diem remembered from these experiences was that personal loyalty was the prime requisite for high command. As a result, he took an intense and direct interest in the appointments of military officers, and-as in other endeavors -found it easier to place his trust in Northerners and Catholics. Before long, the upper echelons of the officer corps were preponderantly from these groups, and closely netted to the Diem family web of preferment. As GVN demands for loyal civil servants willing to forego the advantages of Saigon multiplied, Diem was impelled to shift trusted military officers into his civil administration. The head of the General Directorate of Police and Security was a military officer from 1956 forward; his subordinates in the police apparatus included a growing number of military officers-for example, all the Saigon district police chiefs appointed in the year 1960 were soldiers. The government in the provinces reflected similar moves toward militarization: TRENDS TOWARD MILITARY OFFICERS AS PROVINCE CHIEFS

1958 1960 1962

No. Provinces 36 36 41

No. Alilitary Chiefs 13 21 36

% Military Chiefs

36 58 88

There was a coextensive militarization of public administration at district and lower levels. 3.

Dissatisfaction in the Officer Corps

But if Vietnam's soldiers found the Diem family a way to political power, wealth, and social prominence, they had ample reason to be dissatisfied with Diem's intervention in their professional concerns. The propensity of Ngo Dinh Diem to control his military with a tight rein extended to deciding when and where operations would be conducted, with what forces, and often how they would be used. Moreover, he involved himself with the arming and equipping of the forces, showing a distinct proclivity to heavy military forces of the conventional type, even for the Civil Guard. which reinforced American military leanings in the same direction. There were a few soldiers, like General Duong Van Minh, who sharply disagreed with the President on both points. And there was a growing number of young officers who resented the Catholic-Northern dominant clique within the military, who were dissatisfied with Diem's familial interference in military matters, and who were willing to entertain notions that


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1

the GVN had to be substantially modified. Nonetheless, until 1963, there was little apparent willingness to concert action against Diem. 4.

The Early Coup Attempts. 1960 and 1962

On November II, 1960, three paratroop battalions stationed in Saigon--considered by Diem among his most faithful--cooperated in an attempted coup d'etat. The leadership consisted of a small group of civilians and military officers: Hoang Co Thuy, a Saigon Lawyer; Lt Colonel Nguyen Trieu Hong, Thuy's nephew; Lt Colonel Vuong Van Dong, Hong's brother in law; and Colonel Nguyen Chanh Thi, the commander of the paratroops, who was apparently brought into the cabal at the last moment. The coup failed to arouse significant general pro-coup sentiment, either among the armed forces, or among the populace. Troops marched on Saigon. and rebels surrendered. In February, 1962, two Vietnamese air force planes bombed the Presidential palace in an unsuccessful attempt on President Diem and the Nhus-properly, an assassination attempt rather than a coup d'etat. But the abortive events of 1960 and 1962 had the effect of dramatizing the choices open to those who recognized the insolvency of Diem's political and military policies. When Diem was overthrown in November, 1963, he was attacked by an apparatus that had been months in preparation. Unlike the earlier incident, the 1963 coup was actively supported by virtually all the generals of RVNAF, and was openly condoned by large sectors of the populace. G.



Diem and Communists

Ngo Dinh Diem presided over a state which, for all the lip service it paid to individual freedom and American style government, remained a one party, highly centralized familial oligarchy in which neither operating democracy, nor the prerequisites for such existed. On 11 January, 1956, in GVN Ordinance Number 6, President Diem decreed broad governmental measures providing for ..the defense of the state and public order," including authority to detain "individuals considered a danger to the state" or to "national defense and common security" at re-education centers. One month after the date of the scheduled Geneva plebescite, on 21 August 1956, the Government of Vietnam proclaimed Ordinance Number 47, which defined as a breach of law punishabJe by death any deed performed in or for any organization designated as "Communist," Moreover, the GVN was forced to use violence to establish itself in its own rural areas. In July, 1956, the month the Geneva ejections were scheduled to have been held, the U.S. Army attache in Saigon noted in his monthly report that: Orders have reportedly been issued to all Viet Minh cadres in Free Viet Nam to increase their efforts to reorganize and revitalize the military units in their zones of responsibility. These cadres have, however, encountered considerable difficulty in motivating their adherents to work for the Communist cause. The military and political cadres are making little progress due to the Communist Denunciation Campaigns promoted by the Government of the Republic of Viet Nam. • . • The same report submitted an ARVN estimate of 4,300 armed Viet Minh in aU of Free Viet Nam, and recorded small ARVN skirmishes with Viet Minh

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


south of Saigon» clashes with 10 Hoa Hao battalions» 8 Cao Dai battalions north and west of Saigon» and incidents of banditry north of Bien Boa by Binh Xuyen. But» in a relatively short time» the fighting subsided» the Vietnamese Army was withdrawn from the countryside for retraining. reorganization» and modernization under the US MAAG» and South Vietnam ostensibly settled into the first peace it had known in a decade. Peace rested. however. or strong central government. In an article published in the January» 1957» Foreign Affairs. an American analyst stated that: South Viet Nam is today a quasi-police state characterized by arbitrary arrests and imprisonment. strict censorship of the press and the absence of an effective political opposition. . . . All the techniques of political and psychological warfare, as well as pacification campaigns involving extensive military operations have been brought to bear against the underground. Police states. efficiently organized and operated. have historically demonstrated much greater ability at countering insurgency than other sorts of governments. South Vietnam in fact succeeded in 1955 and 1956 in quelling rural dissidence through a comprehensive political and military assault on sect forces and other anti-government armed bands using its army. the civic action cadre. the Communist Denunciation campaign» and a broad range of promised reforms. Moreover. at its worst. the Government of South Vietnam compared favorably with other Asian regimes with respect to its degree of repressiveness. Nor did it face endemic violence markedly different from that then prevalent in Burma» Indonesia. South Korea. And its early "counterinsurgency" operations were as sophisticated as any being attempted elsewhere in Asia. In 1957. the Government of Viet Nam claimed that its pacification programs had succeeded: We believe that with clear» even elementary ideas based upon facts . . • we can imbue . . . first the youth and ultimately the entire population with the spirit and essential objectives of . . • civic humanism. We believe that this above aU is the most effective antidote to Communism (which is but an accident of history). . • • .•. We can see that the Viet-Minh authorities have disintegrated and been rendered powerless. P. J. Honey. the British expert on Vietnam. agreed; his evaluation as of early 1958 was as follows: . . . The country has enjoyed three years of relative peace and calm in which it has been able to carryon the very necessary work of national reconstruction. The most destructive feature in the national life of Vietnam throughout recent years has been the lack of security in the countryside. which obliged farmers and peasants to abandon the ricefields and to flee to the large cities for safety. Today it is possible to travel all over South Vietnam without any risk. The army and security forces have mopped up most of the armed bands of political opponents of the Government. of Communists and of common bandits. One still hears of an isolated raid» but the old insecurity is fast vanishing. . . . After a 1959 trip. however. Honey detected dangerous unease in the countryside: For the overwhelming majority of the Vietnamese, heirs to experience of a century of French colonial rule» the Government is a remote body which passes laws, collects taxes.. demands labour corvees, takes away able-


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. 1 bodied men for military service, and generally enriches itself at the expense of the poor peasant. "Government" is associated in the minds of the villagers with exactions, punishments, unpaid labour. and other unpleasant matters. These people are members of families and members of villages, and their loyalties to both are strong. But these loyalties do not extend beyond the village, nor has any past experience taught the peasants why they should. The idea that the peasants should assume any responsibility for the [extravillage] government themselves would be so alien to their thinking as to- be comic. Educated Vietnamese are well aware of this. as many of their actions show. . . . Such political parties as existed in Vietnam before the advent of independence were all clandestine. so that any political experience acquired from these by the Vietnamese peasants will have been of secret plotting for the overthrow of the Government. Since independence. they will probably have been subjected to attempted Communist indoctrination by the Viet Cong, but this too will have had an anti-Government slant. Since 1954, the peasants have been fed on a diet of puerile. and frequently offensive slogans by the Ministry of Information. These serve, if indeed they serve any purpose at all. to make the peasant distrust the Government of Ngo Dinh Diem. The peasants, for all their naivete. are far from foolish and they are not deceived by slogans alleging to be true things which they know. from their own personal experience. to be untrue. Any political experience among the peasantry. then. is more likely to prove a liability than an asset to any Government.

Diem knew that his main political dissent was centered not among his fellow mandarins. in his press, or among his military officers. but in the peasantry. And the prime challenge was, as Diem saw it, communism. precisely because it could and did afford the peasants political experience. Communism was, from the outset of Diem's rule. his bete noire. In 1955, after the victory over the sects, and just before General John W. O'Daniel ended his tour as Chief. MAAG Vietnam. Diem talked to the General about Vietnam's future: He spoke about the decentralization of government that he had been advised to undertake, but felt that the time was not yet right. He felt that, since his country was involved in a war, warlike control was in order. He remarked that the Vietminh propaganda line never mentioned Communism. but only land reform. . . . Diem wants land reform too. . In his message to the American Friends of Vietnam in June. 1956. Diem acknowledged progress. but warned that: We have an ved at a critical point• . . . We must now give meaning to our hard sough! liberty. . . . To attain that goal we need technicians and machines. Our armed forces which are considerably reduced must however undertake an immense task from the military as well as the cultural and social point of view. It is indispensable that our army have the wherewithal to become increasingly capable of preserving the peace which we seek. There are an infinite number of tasks in all fields to complete before the year's end. Diem's preoccupation with security paradoxically interfered with his ability to compete with the communists in the countryside. In effect. he decided on a




Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 327 strategy of postponing the politicizing of the peasants until he had expunged his arch-foes. Diem's official biography underscores this point: The main concern of President N go Dinh Diem is therefore to destroy the sources of demoralization, however powerful, before getting down to the problem of endowing Vietnam with a democratic apparatus in the Western sense of the word. Madame Nhu, his sister-in-law, was vehement that any political liberalization would have operated to Viet Cong advantage: "If we open the window, not only sunlight, but many bad things will fly in, also." To hold a contrary view does not necessarily argue that democratization was the only way Diem could have met his political opposition in the villages; it does seem, however, that in failing to meet aspirations there by some departure from inefficiently repressive course he adopted. Diem erred. In concluding that he did not have to reckon with Peasant attitudes. Diem evidently operated from two related misapprehensions: that somehow the peasants would remain politically neutral while he eliminated the communists. and that the Viet Cong were essentially a destructive force. It was not that Diem could not vocalize a sound estimate of the communist political threat; his own description of communist operations to an Australian journalist was quite accurate: In China, during the Indo-China war and now here. the Communists have always sheltered in open base areas of difficult access, in areas where there are no roads. They have made their headquarters in the jungle. Cautiously, sometimes only one man at a time, they move into a village and establish a contact, then a cell until the village is theirs to command. Having got one village, they move to a second village and from a second to third, until eventually they need not live in any of these villages, but merely visit them periodically. When this stage is reached, they are in a position to build training camps and even start crude factories and produce home-made guns, grenades, mines, and booby traps. This is all part of the first phase. The second phase is to expand control and link up with Communist groups in other bases. To begin with, they start acts of violence through their underground organizations. They kill village chiefs, headmen. and others working for the government and, by so doing, terrorize the population, not necessarily by acts of violence against the people but by demonstrating that there is no security for them in accepting leadership from those acknowledging the leadership of the government. Even with much smaller numbers of troops than the constituted authority, it is not difficult now for the Communists to seize the initiative. A government has responsibility for maintaining supply to the civil population of keeping railways. rivers. and canals open for traffic, of ensuring that rural crops reach the markets and that in tum commodity goods are distributed throughout the country. The Communists have no such responsibility. They have no roads and bridges to guard, and no goods to distribute. Diem failed to perceive that the "first phase" was crucial, or that the VC were, from the very outset, constructing while they destroyed, building a state within South Vietnam with more effective local government than his own. Like many another issue in Vietnam, the problem was in part semantics. "Communists" during this period formally recanted for the GVN by the thou-


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. 1

sands; thousands more "communists" were incarcerated by the GVN for "political reeducation." But Ordinance 47 of 1956 notwithstanding, "communist" is a term which has not been used since the 1940's by Vietnamese serving the Marxist-Leninist Party headed by Ho Chi Minh of the DRV. These referred to themselves as members of the Vietnam Workers Party (Dang Lao Dong), as members of one Front or another, or as resistance fighters, or fighters for national liberation. Nor was "Viet Minh" a useful name, since Viet Minh. a nationalist front, included numerous non-communist, or at least non-party members. In 1956, the Saigon press began to distinguish between the Viet Minh and communists by referring to the latter as "Viet Cong," a fairly precise, and not necessarily disparaging, rendition of "Viet Nam Cong-San," which means "Vietnamese Communist:' The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) much later condemned the term as "contemptuous," and pointed out that the GVN had applied it indiscriminately to all persons or groups "who are lukewarm toward the pro-U .S. policy even on details." There can be no doubt that Diem and his government applied the term somewhat loosely within South Vietnam, and meant by it North as well as South Vietnamese communists, whom they presumed acted in concert. 2.

The Viet Minh Residue

At the close of the Franco-Viet Minh War, some 60,000 men were serving in organized Viet Minh units in South Viet Nam. For the regroupments to North Vietnam. these units were augmented with large numbers of untrained young men-who were later known among the regroupees in North Vietnam as "soldlers of Geneva." A reported 90,000 soldiers were taken to North Vietnam in the evacuated units, while the U.S. and the GVN estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 trained men were left behind as "cadre." If French estimates are correct that in 1954 the Viet Minh controlled over 60 to 90 percent of South Vietnam's villages outside the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao regions, those 5,000 to 10,000 cadre must have represented only a small fraction of the remaining Viet Minh apparatus-e-cadre, local workers, sympathizers-in the countryside. GVN figures themselves attest to this. In 1955 and 1956 alone, the GVN claimed 100,000 communist "cadre" rallied or surrendered. Neither Diem's GVN nor the U.S. knew a area; deal about the Viet Minh in the period 1954-1960. By 1967, however, new information had begun to accumulate from interrogations of prisoners and defectors, and captured documents. For example, in March, 1967, a study was published of 23 Viet Minh who stayed behind during the regroupment of 1954-1955. All the men of the sample told consistent stories, and although an admittedly narrow basis for generalization, the stories ring true. Upon departure, the Viet Minh leaders assigned some of these stay-behinds active roles; others were simply told to return to their homes as inactives, and wait for further instructions. It is quite clear that even the activists were not instructed to organize units for guerrilla war, but rather to agitate politically for the promised Geneva elections, and the normalization of relations with the North. They drew much reassurance from the presence of the ICC, and up until mid-1956, most held on to the belief that the elections would take place. They were disappointed in two respects: not only were the promised elections not held, but the amnesty which had been assured by the Geneva Settlement was denied them, and they were hounded by the Anti-Communist campaign. After 1956, for the most part, they went "underground." They were uniformly outraged at Diem's practices, particularly the


Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


recurrent GVN attempts to grade the populace into lettered categories according to previous associations with the Viet Minh. Most of them spoke of terror, brutality and torture by GVN rural officials in carrying out the Communist Denunciation campaigns, and of the arrest and slaying of thousands of old comrades from the "resistance." Their venom was expended on these local officials, rather than on Diem, or the central government, although they were prepared to hold Diem ultimately responsible. A veteran who had been a Party member since 1936 characterized the years 1955-1959 as the most difficult years of the entire revolution. What these cadre did in those years is revealing. Only four of the 23 were engaged in military tasks. Most spent their time in preparation for a future uprising, in careful recruitment in the villages-concentrating on the very families with Viet Minh ties who were receiving priority in the GVN's attentions-and in constructing base areas in the mountains or jungles. The Viet Minh activists sought out the inactives, brought them back into the organization, and together they formed the framework of an expanding and increasingly intricate network of intelligence and propaganda. Few spoke of carrying weapons, or using violence before 1959, although many boasted of feats of arms in later years. They felt that they lacked the right conditions to strike militarily before 1959; their mission was preparation. In several instances, the Viet Cong used terror to recruit former Viet Minh for the new movement. threatening them with "treason" and elimination; caught between the GVN and the VC, many old Resistance members joined the "New Resistance." But most spoke of making person-to-person persuasion to bring in new members for the movement, relying mainly on two appeals: nac.onalism and social justice. They stressed that the Americans had merely substituted a new, more pernicious form of tyranny for that of the French. and that the My-Diem combine was the antithesis of humane and honest government. One respondent spoke of this activity in these terms: From 1957 to 1960 the cadres who had remained in the South had almost all been arrested. Only one or two cadres were left in every three to five villages. What was amazing was how these one or two cadres started the movement so well. The explanation is not that these cadres were exceptionally gifted but the people they talked to were ready for rebellion. The people were like a mound of straw, ready to be ignited. . . . If at that time the government in the South had been a good one, if it had not been dictatorial, if the agrarian reforms had worked, if it had established control at the village level. then launching the movement would have been difficult. These interviews underscored three points on which the GVN was apparently in error. First. with respect to the stay-behinds themselves, by no means were aU dedicated communists in the doctrinaire sense. Many reported that they resented and feared the communists in the Viet Minh. and apparently might have been willing to serve the GVN faithfully had it not hounded them out of the society. There were several among the group. for example. who had entered Saigon. and there found a degree of freedom which kept them off the Viet Cong roles for years. Second. with regard to the peasants in general. the Viet Minh were widely admired throughout the South as national heroes, and the GVN therefore committed a tactical error of the first magnitude in damning all Viet Minh without qualification as communists. Third, the GVN created by its rural policy a climate of moral indignation which energized the peasants politically.


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Val. 1

turned them against the government, sustained the Viet Cong, and permitted "communists" to outlast severe GVN repressions and even to recruit during it. The foregoing precis of the 1967 study presents views which are paralleled in a captured Viet Cong history, written around 1963, which describes the years after 1954 as follows: EXPERIENCES OF THE SOUTH VIETNAM REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT DURING THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS During the past nine years, under the enlightened leadership of the Party Central Committee, the people and the Party of South Vietnam have experienced many phases along the difficult and complicated path of struggle but they have also gained many victories and experiences while pushing the South Vietnam liberation revolution and creating the conditions for peaceful reunification of the country. . . . After the armistice, the South Vietnam people reverted to political struggle through peaceful means by demanding personal rights, freedom and negotiations concerning general elections in accordance with the stipulations of the Geneva Agreement so that the country could be peacefully reunified . . . The Party [words illegible] party were changed in order to guarantee the leadership and forces of the Party under the new struggle conditions. . . . From the end of 1954 until 1956 several important changes occurred in the South Vietnam situation. Imperialist America ousted and replaced imperialist France, turning South Vietnam into a colony (a new type of colony) based on U.S. military power. The Ngo Dinh Diem government was clearly shown to be a government composed of bureaucratic, dictatorial and family-controlled feudalists and capitalists who committed crimes for the American imperialists and massacred the people. massacred revolutionaries and massacred the oppositionists. Both the Americans and Diem made every effort to oppose the implementation of the Geneva Agreement and made every effort to subvert the peaceful reunification of our fatherland. . . . Immediately after the re-establishment of peace, the responsibility of South Vietnam was to use the political struggle to demand the implementation of the Geneva Agreement. The struggle responsibilities and procedures were appropriate for the situation at that time and corresponded with the desires of the great majority of the masses who wished for peace after nearly 10 years of difficult resistance. At that time, although the Americans-Diemists used cruel force to oppose the people and the revolution. and the masses struggled decisively against this repression in many places and at many times, the contradictions had not yet developed to a high degree and the hatred had not yet developed to a point where the use of armed struggle could become an essential and popular struggle tactic. In South Vietnam since 1955, thanks to the armed movement of the sects, we were able to avoid the construction of an armed propaganda force, since we only had a few former bases which were needed in the political struggle and for the creation of a reserve force. From 1957 to 1958. the situation gradually changed. The enemy persistently sabotaged the implementation of the Geneva Agreement, actively consolidated and strengthened the army, security service, and adminis-

Origins of the Insurgency in Vietnam, 1954-1960 331 trative apparatus from the central to the hamlet level, crudely assassinated the people, and truly and efficiently destroyed our Party. By relying on force, the American-Diemist regime was temporarily able to stabilize the situation and increase the prestige of the counterrevolutionaries. At this time, the political struggle movement of the masses, although not defeated, was encountering increasing difficulty and increasing weakness; the Party bases, although not completely destroyed, were significantly weakened, and in some areas, quite seriously; the prestige of the masses and of the revolution suffered. But in reality, the years during which the enemy increased his terrorism were also the years in which the enemy suffered major political losses [words illegible] The masses became more deep seeded and many individuals who formerly supported the enemy now opposed them. The masses, that is to say, the peasants, now realized that it was impossible to live under such conditions and that it was necessary to rise up in drastic struggle. Faced with the fact that the enemy was using guns, assassinations and imprisonment to oppose the people in their political struggle, many voices among the masses appealed to the Party to establish a program of armed resistance against the enemy. Within the Party, on the one hand, the members were saturated with the responsibility to lead the revolution to a successful overthrow of the enemy, but on the other hand, the majority of the party members and cadres felt that it was necessary to immediately launch an armed struggle in order to preserve the movement and protect the forces. In several areas the party members on their own initiative had organized armed struggle against the enemy . . . Up to 1959, in South Vietnam, the Americans-Diemists had fully constructed a large army, equipped with modern weapons, along with a large and well armed administrative, police and security apparatus. During the years in which the masses were only using political struggle, the Americans-. Diemists used the military, security and administrative apparatus to launch various campaigns to terrorize, mop up and oppress the movement, no different from during the period of warfare. Because they were determined to crush the revolution and control the people at every moment, they could not avoid using every type of repression. In opposing such an enemy, simple political struggle was not possible. It was necessary to use additional armed struggle, but not merely low level armed struggle, such as only armed propaganda, which was used to support the political struggle. The enemy would not allow us any peace, and in the face of the enemy operations and destructive pursuit, the armed propaganda teams, even if they wished to avoid losses, would never be able to engage the enemy in warfare and would never be able to become an actual revolutionary army. This is an essential fact of the movement and the actual movement in South Vietnam illustrates this fact. Therefore, at the end of 1959. when we launched an additional armed struggle in coordination with the political struggle against the enemy, it immediately took the form in South Vietnam of revolutionary warfare, a long range revolutionary warfare. Therefore, according to some opinions at the beginning of 1959. we only used heavy armed propaganda and later developed "regional guerrillas. . . ." This version of events from 1954 through 1959 is further supported by the report of interrogation of one of the four members of the Civilian Proselyting


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol, 1

Section of the Viet Cong Saigon/Gia Dinh Special Zone Committee. captured in November. 1964; the prisoner stated that: The period from the Armistice of 1954 until 1958 was the darkest time for the VC in South Vietnam. The political agitation policy proposed by the Communist Party could not be carried out due to the arrest of a number of party members by RVN authorities. The people's agitation movement was minimized. However. the organizational system of the party from the highest to the lowest echelons survived. and since the party remained close to the people. its activities were not completely suppressed. In 1959 the party combined its political agitation with its military operations. and by the end of 1959 the combined operations were progressing smoothly. Viet Cong "political agitation" was a cunning blend of the Viet Minh nationalist charisma. exploitation of GVN shortcomings, xenophobia, and terror. Drawing on the years of Viet Minh experience in subversive government and profiting from Viet Minh errors, the Viet Cong appealed to the peasants not as Marxist revolutionaries proposing a drastic social upheaval, but quite to the contrary. as a conservative, nationalist force wholly compatible with the village-centered traditionalism of most farmers, and as their recourse against "My-Diem" modernization. One American authority summed the Viet Minh experience evident in Viet Cong operations as ten political precepts: 1. Don't try for too much; don't smash the existing social system. use it; don't destroy opposition organizations, take them over. 2. Use the amorphous united front to attack opposition political forces too large or too powerful for you to take over; then fragment their leadership, using terror ii necessary, and drown their followers in the front organization. 3. At all times appear outwardly reasonable about the matter of sharing power with rival organizations although secretly working by every means to eliminate them. Don't posture in public. 4. Divide your organization rigidly into overt and covert sections and minimize traffic between the two. The overt group's chief task is to generate broad public support; the covert group seeks to accumulate and manipulate political power. S. Use communism as dogma. stressing those aspects that are well regarded by the people; don't hesitate to interpret Marxism-Leninism in any way that proves beneficial. Soft-pedal the class-struggle idea except among cadres. 6. Don't antagonize anyone if it can be helped: this avoids the formation of rival blocs. 7. Bearing in mind that in Vietnam altruism is conspicuous by its absence, blend the proper mixture of the materialistic appeals of communism and the endemic feelings of nationalism. Win small but vital gains through communism, large ones through nationalism. Plan to win in the end not as Communists but as nationalists. 8. Use the countryside as the base and carry the struggle to the cities later; in rural areas political opportunities are greater and risks smaller. Avoid the lure of the teahouse. 9. But forge a city alliance. Mobilization of the farmer must create a strong farmer-worker bond.

Origins oj the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


10. Work from the small to the large, from the specific to the general; work from small safe areas to large liberated areas and then expand the liberated areas; begin with small struggle movements and work toward a General Uprising during which state power will be seized. The same expert termed General Uprising "a social myth in the Sorelian sense, perhaps traceable back to the Communist myth of the general strike," and cited Viet Cong documents which describe how the 2500 villages of Vietnam will be led toward a spontaneous final and determinant act of revolution: The Revolution, directed toward the goal of the General Uprising, bas these five characteristics: . . . It takes place in a very favorable worldwide setting. . . . It is against the neocolonialism of the U.S.A. . . . The government of Vietnam is unpopular and growing weaker. . . • The people have revolutionary consciousness and are willing to struggle. . . . It is led by the Party, which has great experience. Ho and Giap thus coated Marx and Mao with French revolutionary romanticism. Diem, the moral reformer. also drew heavily upon the same traditions for "personalism." One of the tragedies of modem Vietnam is that the political awakening of its peasants was to these, the most virulent, and vicious social theories of the era. But doctrine was not the sole heritage the Viet Cong received from the Viet Minh. Perhaps more important was the "Resistance" organization: the hierarchy extending upward from hamlet and village through provincial to regionai authorities capable of coordinating action on a broad scale. The Viet Minh complied with military regroupments under the Geneva Accords but were not obligated to withdraw the "political" apparatus; in fact, the Settlement provided guarantees for it in its provisions against reprisals (Armistice, Article 14c, and Conference Final Declaration. Article 9). and for liberation of political prisoners (Armistice, Article 21). Knowledge of the techniques of clandestine politics, appreciation for the essentiality of tight discipline. and trained personnel constituting a widespread, basic organizational framework were all conferred on the Viet Congo 3.

Rural Violence and GVN Counters. 1957-1960

By early 1958, Saigon was beginning to sense that pacification had eluded the GVN even as it had the French. In December. 1957, the ill-fated newspaper, Thai Luan, pointed out that terrorism was on the rise, and that: Today the menace is heavier than ever. with the terrorists no longer limiting themselves to the notables in charge of security. Everything suits them, village chiefs. chairmen of liaison committees, simple guards. even former notables. . . . In certain areas. the village chiefs spend their nights in the security posts. while the inhabitants organize watches. . • • The most urgent need for the population today is security-a question to which we have repeatedly drawn the attention of the authorities. Spectacular assassinations have taken place in the provinces of An Giang and Phong-Dinh (in the Mekong Delta]. In the village of Than-My-Tay, armed men appeared in the dead of night. awakened the inhabitants. read a death sentence, and beheaded four young men whose heads they nailed to the nearest bridge. . . .


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 1 The security question in the provinces must be given top priority: the regime will be able to consolidate itself only if it succeeds in finding a solution to this problem.

Besides the incidents cited, there had been a mass murder of 17 in Chau-Doc in July, 1957; in September the District Chief at My Tho with his whole family was gunned down in daylight on a main highway; on 10 October a bomb thrown into a Cholon cafe injured 13 persons, and on 22 October, in three bombings in Saigon, 13 Americans were wounded. Also in October a clandestine radio in Vietnam purporting to speak for the "National Salvation Movement" was backing armed insurgents against Diem. In Washington, U.S. intelligence indicated that the "Viet Minh underground" had been directed to conduct additional attacks on U.S. personnel "whenever conditions are favorable." U.S. intelligence also noted a total of 30 armed "terrorist incidents initiated by Communist guerillas" in the last quarter of 1957, as well as a "large number" of incidents carried out by "Communist-lead [sic] Hoa Hao and Cao Dai dissident elements," and reported 路'at least" 75 civilians or civil officials assassinated or kidnapped in the same period. Robert Shaplen wrote that: By 1958, the Vietminh had fully resumed its campaign of terror in the countryside, kidnapping government officials and threatening villagers . . . in an average month the local and regional units were becoming involved in a score of engagements. Usually, these were hit-and-run Communist attacks on Self-Defense Corps or Civil Guard headquarters, the purpose of which was both to seize weapons and to heighten the atmosphere of terror. Guns should have been plentiful in the countryside of Vietnam. The Japanese, the French and even the GVN armed the sect rorces, And both the sects and the Viet Minh had operated small arms factories-for instance, General Lansdale visited a Cao Dai weapons factory at Nui Ba Den in Tay Ninh in 1955. The Viet Minh cached arms as they withdrew from their "liberated areas" in 1954 and 1955. ARVN veterans and deserters from the force reductions of 1954 and 1955 carried weapons into the hinterland. The VC attacked for weapons to make up for losses to the GVN, and to equip units with similar types to simplify logistics. In January. 1958, a "large band" of "communist" guerrillas attacked a plantation north of Saigon. and in February, an ARVN truck was ambushed on the outskirts of the capital. In March. the Saigon newspaper Dan-Cung complained that: "our people are fleeing the villages and returning to the cities for fear of communist guerrillas and feudalistic officials. . . :. Bernard Fall published an article in July. 1958, in which he mapped the pattern of assassinations and other incidents from April 1957 to April 1958, and announced the onset of a new war: Fall's thesis was challenged by a senior U.S. adviser to the GVN. who argued that the increasing casualty figures represented not a structured attempt to overthrow the GVN, but were simply a product of police reporting in the hinterlands. There can be no doubt that the latter view was partially correct: neither the U.S. nor the GVN knew what was "normal" in the rural areas, and police reporting, with U.S. aid, had been improved. But the deadly figures continued to mount. George A. Carver of the CIA, in his 1966 Foreign AfJaiTs article, agreed with Fall: A pattern of politically motivated terror began to emerge, directed against the representatives of the Saigon government and concentrated on the very tA~d and the very good. The former were liquidated to win favor with the

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


peasantry; the latter because their effectiveness was a bar to the achievement of Communist objectives. The terror was directed not only against officials but against all whose operations were essential to the functioning of organized political society» school teachers, health workers, agricultural officials. etc. The scale and scope of this terrorist and insurrectionary activity mounted slowly and steadily. By the end of 1958 the participants in this incipient insurgency» whom Saigon quite accurately termed the "Viet Cong," constituted a serious threat to South Viet Nam's political stability.

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Like most other statistics concerning Vietnam, figures on the extent of the terrorism varied widely. The GVN reported to the ICC that in 1951, 1958, and the first half of 1959, Viet Cong murdered 65 village officials. 51 civilians, 28 Civil Guardsmen, and 10 soldiers. GVN official reports provided the U.S. Embassy in Saigon recorded a significantly greater toll of civilians:



By Quarter. From GVN Reports to U.S. Embassy 1959


1 2 3 4 Total 52 34 46 97 233 44 53 67 179 343

First 5 Months





4 Total


72 51 26 44



73 32 66 65


780 282

Journalists and scholars. studying open sources. put the figures even higher. Douglas Pike reported 1700 assassinations and 2000 abductions in the years 19571960. Bernard Fall estimated murders of low-level GVN officials as follows: May 1957 to May 1958

to May 1959

to May 1960

to May 1961





Fall reported that the GVN lost almost 20% of its village chiefs through 1958. and that by the end of 1959. they were becoming casualties at the rate of more than 2% per month. Through 1963. Fall calculated. 13.000 petty officials were eliminated by the ve. The New York Times estimated that 3.000 local government officials were killed or captured during 1960. and Time magazine reported in the fall of 1960 that the GVN was losing 250 to 300 per month to a "new Communist offensive": The U.s. "White Paper" of 1961 cited losses of 1400 local officials and civilians during 1960. But if there was disparity among numerical estimates. most reports. public or private. concluded that the violence was real, anti-government. rising in intensity. and increasingly organized. In mid-1958 Bernard Fall correlated the locus of rural violence reported in

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Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


South Vietnam with complaints lodged with the ICC in Hanoi by the DRV on behalf of "Former Resistance members:' alleging GVN violations of the "no reprisals" provisions of the Geneva Accords (Armistice. Article 14c). The detail in these complaints indicated an intelligence apparatus in South Vietnam. "The conclusion is mescapable," he wrote, "that there must be some coordination between the rebels and the North Vietnamese Government." About that same time. U.S. intelligence reported that Viet Cong-bandit operations north of Saigon seemed to be part of a calculated campaign of economic sabotage. According to one description of the village near My Tho which was studied very intensively around mid-19S8: . . . For the first time [the village] experienced the activities of a relatively new political movement-Mat Tran Dan Toe Giai Phong Mien Nam Viet Nam (National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam) referred to by the South Vietnamese government as the Viet Cong or Vietnamese Communists . . . and invariably called the Viet Minh by the villagers. In the vicinity of [the village] the initial efforts of the Viet Cong were largely confined to anti-government propaganda. One VC pamphlet of late 1958 from the Mekong Delta reads as follows: Support the just struggle of the people to overthrow the government of the Americans and Diem [My-Dieml, to establish a democratic regime in the South. and to work for general elections which will unify the country by peaceful means. But. if "struggle" sounds innocuous enough in English. the word fails to carry the intensity of the Vietnamese equivalent, dau tranh. A VC rallier put it this way: Dau tranh is all important to a revolutionist. It marks his thinking, his attitudes, his behavior. His life. his revolutionary work. his whole world is dau 'Tanh. The essence of his existence is dau 'Tanh.

And. the term "just struggle of the people" sheathed the terror integral to Viet Cong operations. In Pike's estimate: Insurgency efforts in the 1958-1960 period involved violence such as assassinations but few actual armed attacks. This was so partly because the cadres had little military capability but chiefty because doctrine counseled against violence. . . . For the true believers operating throughout the South this was a time of surreptitious meetings, cautious political feelers, the tentative assembling of a leadership group. and the sounding out of potential cadres whose names went into a file for future reference. It meant working mainly with nonCommunists and. in many cases, keeping one's Communist identity a secret. . . . Diem's own party newspaper. the NRM's each Mang Quoc Gla, published an article in February. 1959 which reported that "the situation in the rural areas is rotten;' and described communist cells established in the villages collecting taxes and conducting "espionage," supporting local guerrilla forces responsive to a hierarchy of provincial and regional committees. From mid-1959 onward. there was a definite upsurge in Viet Cong activity.

338 Greve! Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Yolo 1 marked not only by the increase in terrorism noted in the statistics presented above, but also by the fielding of large military units which sought, rather than avoided. engagement with units of Diem's regular army. On 26 September 1959 two companies of the ARVN 23d Division were ambushed by a weU-organized force of several hundred identified as the "2d Liberation Battalion"; the ARVN units lost 12 killed. 14 wounded, and most of their weapons. On 2S January 1960 the same Viet Cong battalion launched an attack coordinated with four guerrilla companies--a total force of 300 to 500 men-which penetrated the compound of the 32d Regiment. 21st ARVN Division at Tay Ninh. killed 23 ARVN soldiers, and netted a large haul of arms and ammunition. On 29 January 1960 an insurgent band seized the town of Dong Xoai, some sixty miles north of Saigon, held the place for several hours, and robbed a French citizen of 200,000 piasters. In the same month. large VC forces opened operations in the Camau peninsula and the Mekong Delta. In Kien Hoa province VC units numbering hundreds effectively isolated the province capital from six of its eight districts. Bernard Fall. in his continuing study of Viet Cong operations, detected a new strategy operating: a shift during 1959 and early 1960 from base development in the Delta to isolation of Saigon. Whether or not the incidents plotted by Fall constituted a strategy as he thought. they were patently more coherent. A U.S. intelligence assessment submitted 7 March 1960 described VC plans, confirmed from a variety of U.S. and GVN sources. to launch large scale guerrilla warfare that year "under the flag of the People's Liberation Movement," which was identified as "red, with a blue star." The VC were reportedly moving into position to exercise one or more of three strategic options by the end of 1960: (1) incite an ARVN revolt; (2) set up a popular front government in the lower Delta; (3) force the GVN into such repressive countermeasures that popular uprisings will follow. An ARVN coup d'etat did ensue, although it was neither VC incited nor successful; nor was there any general revolt in the ranks. No popular front government was set up. But the GVN was prompted to a succession of repressive countermeasures which may have aided the Viet Cong much as they had expected. Prodded by the rural violence, Diem began his "counterinsurgency" in early 1959 with the reintensification of population classification and relocation programs. On 6 May 1959, the GVN promulgated Law 10/59, which set up three military tribunals which could, without appeal, adjudge death for crimes under Ordinance 47 of 1956-the anti-communist law. In actuality, these tribunals were used sparingly, usually for show-case trials of terrorists. But the existence of Law 10/59 furnished grist for VC propaganda mills for years. On 7 July, 1959, the GVN launched its "prosperity and density centers"-the "agroville" program-and Ngo Dinh Nhu and his wife plunged into organizing rural youth, women, and farmers' organizations. However. just as the VC Tet offensive of 1968 attenuated "Revolutionary Development," the VC upsurge of late 1959 and early 1960 disrupted the new GVN organizational efforts, and reinforced Diem's conviction that security was the paramount consideration. The U.S. assessment of March 1960 cited widespread abuse of police powers by local officials for extortion and vendetta, and pointed out that arbitrary and corrupt local officials compromised GVN efforts to root out the VC "undercover cadres," Moreover: • , . While the GVN has made an effort to meet the economic and s0cial needs of the rural populations through community development, the construction of schools, hospitals, roads, etc., these projects appear to have enjoyed only a measure of success in creating support for the government

Origins 0/ the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960 339 and, in fact, in many instances have resulted in resentment. Basically, the problem appears to be that such projects have been imposed on the people without adequate psychological preparation in terms of the benefits to be gained. Since most of these projects call for sacrifice on the part of the population (in the form of allegedly "volunteer" labor in the case of construction, time away from jobs or school labor in the case of rural youth groups, leaving homes and lands in the case of regrouping isolated peasants), they are bound to be opposed unless they represent a partnership effort for mutual benefit on the part of the population and the government. . . . The situation may be summed up in the fact that the government has tended to treat the population with suspicion or to coerce it and has been rewarded with an attitude of apathy or resentment. The Founding 0/ the National Liberation Front Despite their expanding military effort, the Viet Cong remained a formless, "faceless" foe until late in 1960, when the National Liberation Front was announced as the superstructure of the insurgent apparatus, and the political voice of the rebellion. Thereafter, the Viet Cong sought publicity, and thereby acquired identity as a South Vietnam-wide organization of three major components: the NLF itself, the Liberation Army of South Vietnam, and the People's Revolutionary Party.



Organization and Objectives The precise dates of the forming of the NLF constitutes one of the puzzles of the war. As mentioned above, in the years 1954 to 1960, peasants, captured documents and prisoners referred frequently to "the Front," meaning the insurgent movement, and "Front" flags had been captured as early as 1959. These were probably references to Viet Minh carry-over organizations, such as they were, rather than a specific leadership group or structure, with a set of defined objectives. Nguyen Huu Tho, the first Chairman of the NLF. stated in a 1964 interview over Radio Hanoi that: Although formally established in December 1960. the Front had existed as a means of action without by-laws or program since 1954 when we founded the Saigon-Cholon Peace Committee. . . . Many of the members of the [NLF] Central Committee were also members of the Peace Committee. . . . Huynh Tan Phat, Tho's Vice Chairman in the NLF, was reported in late 1955 serving on the "Executive Committee of the Fatherland Front" (Mat Tren To .Quoc>, controlling joint Viet Minh-Hoa Hoa operations against the GVN in the Plain of Reeds. Communists have been joining front organizations linking antigovernment minorities. . . . [Examples are] the 'Vietnamese Peoples' Liberation Movement Forces' [and] .•• , the 'Vietnam-Cambodian Buddhist Association.' A number of authorities, mainly French, have lent credence to an assertion that the NLF was formed by a group of Viet Minh veterans in March, 1960, somewhere in Cocbinchina; but the NLF, as such, received no international publicity until after December 20, 1960. On January 29, 1961, Hanoi Radio broadcast in English to Europe and Asia its first announcement concerning the NLF: A "National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam" was recently formed in South Vietnam by various forces opposing the fascist Ngo Dinh


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Yolo 1 Diem regime. This was revealed by Reuters in Saigon and by different papers published in . . . Phnom Penh. capital of Cambodia. This Front was created after a period of preparation and after a conference of representatives of various forces opposing the fascist regime in South Vietnam. According to these forces. the "National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam" on December 20. 1960. issued a political program and a manifesto . . . [the manifesto] reads: "For a period of nearly a hundred years. the Vietnamese people repeatedly rose up to fight against foreign aggression for national independence and freedom. . . . When the French colonialists invaded our country for the second time. our compatriots-determined not to return to the former slavery-made tremendous sacrifices to defend national sovereignty and independence. The solidarity and heroic struggle of our compatriots during nine years led the resistance war to victory. The 1954 Geneva Agreements reinstalled peace in our country and recognized the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam. Under these circumstances, our compatriots in South Vietnam would have been able to live in peace, earn their livelihood in security and build a life of plenty and happiness. However, American imperialists who had in the past helped the French colonialists massacre our people have now replaced the French in subjugating the southern part of our country through a disguised colonial regime. . . . The National Front for the liberation of South Vietnam calls on the entire people to unite and heroically rise up and struggle with the following program of action: "NORTH VIETNAM "Jan. 31, 1961 'I. To overthrow the disguised colonial regime of the imperialists and the dictatorial administration, and to form a national and democratic coalition administration. '2. To carry out a broad and progressive democracy, promulgate the freedom of expression, of the press, of belief, reunion, association and of movement and other democratic freedoms; to carry out general amnesty of p0litical detainees. dissolve the concentration camps dubbed "prosperity zones" and "resettlement centers:' abolish the fascist law 10-59 and other antidemocratic laws. '3. Abolish the economic monopoly of the United States and its henchmen, protect homemade products, encourage the home industry, expand agriculture, and build an independent and sovereign economy; to provide jobs to unemployed people. increase wages for workers. annymen, and office employees; to abolish arbitrary fines and apply an equitable and rational tax system; to help forced evacuees from North Vietnam who now desire to rejoin their native places; and to provide jobs to those who want to remain. '4. To carry out land rent reduction. guarantee the peasants' right to till their present plots of land, and redistribute communal land in preparation for land reform. '5. To eliminate the U.S.-style culture of enslavement and depravation; to build a national and progressive culture and education, eliminate illiteracy, open more schools, and carry out reform in the educational and examination system. '6. To abolish the system of American military advisers, eliminate foreign military bases in Vietnam, and to build a national army defending the fatherland and the people.

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


"7. To realize equality between men and women, and among diftereat nationalities, and realize the right to autonomy of the national minorities in the country; to protect the legitimate interests of foreign residents in Vietnam; to protect and take care of the interests of overseas Vietnamese. "S. To carry out a foreign policy of peace and neutrality; to establish diplomatic relations with all the countries which respect the independence and sovereignty of Vietnam. '9. To reestablish normal relations between the two zones of Vietnam for the attainment of peaceful reunification of the country. "10. To oppose aggressive wars, actively defend world peace. "The manifesto concludes by calling on various strata of the people to close their ranks and to carry out the above program. The appeal was addressed to the workers, peasants, and other working people, to the intellectuals, the industrialists, and trades, national minorities, religious communities, democratic personalities, patriotic armymen, and young men and women in South Vietnam. "Addressing the Vietnamese living abroad, the manifesto called on them "to turn their thoughts to the beloved motherland and actively contribute to the sacred struggle for national emancipation." ., It is clear that the NLF was not intended as an exclusively communist enterprise. Rather it was designed to encompass anti-GVN activists, and to exploit the bi-polar nature of politics within South Vietnam. In the period 1954-1960, prior to the NLFs "creation," the objectives of insurgents in the South, other than overthrow of My-Diem, were vague. Communists in the South no doubt shared the overall objectives of the DRV, and were aiming at unification of all Vietnam under the Hanoi government. Some rebel nationalists were no doubt aware of the communists' ambitions, but would have regarded such an outcome as acceptable, if not desirable. Others, disillusioned by the actions of the Diem regime after 1956, simply looked toward the establishment of a genuine democratic government in the South. Some peasants may have been fighting to rid themselves of government, or to oppose modernization, looking only to village autonomy. The sects, if not struggling for a democratic regime, were fighting for their independence, as were some of the tribal groups who chose to join the NLF. The National Liberation Front formulated and publicly articulated objectives for all these. George Carver reported that: On February 11, 1961, Hanoi devoted a second broadcast to the N.L.F.'s manifesto and program, blandly changing the language of both to tone down the more blatant Communist terminology of the initial version. However, even the milder second version (which became the "official" text) borrowed extensively from Le Duan's September speech [at the Third National Congress of the Lao Dong Party in Hanoi] and left little doubt about the Front's true sponsors or objectives. The ....tone down" of communism was fairly subtle, if Hanoi so intended its revision, since the alterations consisted mainly in additions to the Ten Points of phraseology drawn from the preamble of the Manifesto; references to ....agrarian reform," in those terms, were, however, cut. There was a marked increase in condemnatory citations of "My-Diem," so that, in eight of ten points in the action program, expelling the U.S. was clearly identified as the way the desired goal would be reached.

342 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Yolo 1 Pike refers to an "organizing congress" of the NLF held in December, 1960, of 60 participants, at which plans were announced for convening the first regular NLF congress within a year. Several postponements obtruded, and the meeting did not take place until February-March 1962. Nonetheless, a Central Committee continued in the interim to further define NLF purposes; the subsequent statements differed from the 1960 Manifesto mainly on points of emphasis. For example. "reunification of the country" (Point 9 of the Manifesto) was downplayed from 1960 through 1962. On the first anniversary of the NLF Manifesto, 20 December 1961. its leaders issued a supplementary series of interim or "immediate action" demands. These called for: 1. Withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel and weapons from South Vietnam and abolition of the Staley Plan. 2. An end to hostilities. 3. Establishment of political freedoms. 4. Release of political prisoners. S. Dissolution of the National Assembly and election of a new assembly and president. 6. Ending the resettlement program. 7. Solution of Vietnam's economic problems. 8. Establishment of a foreign policy of non-alignment. Although "immediate action" was probably intended to open the way toward formation of a coalition government and thence to ties with Hanoi. there was no mention of reunification; nonetheless, Hanoi in December, 1961. listed NLF objectives as "peace, independence. democracy. a comfortable life. and the peaceful unification of the Fatherland." One likely reason for the NLF's omission of reunification from "immediate action" was its desire to broaden its base on antiDiem, anti-U.S. grounds-without alienating anti-Communists who might otherwise support the movement. Again. when the first regular NLF congress met from February 16 to March 3. 1962, the earlier basic objectives of the Front were endorsed. excepting reunification. The Radio Hanoi broadcast on the congress added "advancing to peaceful unification of the Fatherland" to a list from which this objective was conspicuously absent in the NLF releases. On July 20, 1962. the anniversary of the Geneva Accords, the NLF issued a declaration that: The Central Committee of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam believes that in the spirit of Vietnamese dealing with Vietnamese solving their own internal affairs, with the determination to put the Fatherland's interest above all else, the forces that oppose U.S. imperialism in South Vietnam will, through mutual concessions, be able to reach a common agreement for united action to serve the people. The same statement contained a new "four point manifesto": 1. The U.S. government must end its armed aggression against South Vietnam, abolish its military command, withdraw all its troops and personnel. as well as the troops and personnel of U.S. satellites and allies, and withdraw all weapons and other war equipment from South Vietnam. 2. Concerned parties in South Vietnam must stop the war, re-establish peace, and establish conditions throughout South Vietnam to enable the South Vietnamese to solve their own internal affairs. The South Vietnam authority [that is, government] must end its terror operations. 3. There must be established a national coalition government, to include

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam. 1954-1960


representatives of all political parties, cliques, groups, all political tendencies, social strata» members of all religions. This government must guarantee peace. It must organize free general elections in South Vietnam to choose a democratic National Assembly that will carry out the urgently needed policies. It must promulgate democratic liberties to all political parties» grouP8» religions; it must release all political prisoners, abolish all internment camps and all other forms of concentration [camps], and stop the forced draft of soldiers and the military training of youth, women. public servants, and enterprise» economic independence. It must abolish monopolies and improve the living conditions of all people. 4. South Vietnam must carry out a foreign policy of peace and neutrality. It must establish friendly relations with all nations. especially with her neighbors. It must not enter any military bloc or agree to let any country establish military bases on her soil. It must accept aid from all countries [if] free of political conditions. A necessary international agreement must be signed in which the big powers of all blocs pledge to respect the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and neutrality of South Vietnam. South Vietnam, together with Cambodia and Laos, will form a neutral area, all three countries retaining full sovereignty. As the anticipated fall of the Diem government drew near in 1963, NLF statements of goals increasingly stressed the anti-American, probably to shift the focus of NLF attack away from a disappearing objective-the defeat of Diem» and possibly because the NLF could not manipulate or adapt to the Buddhist struggle movement. Demands issued by the NLF five days following Diem's fall in November, 1963, were probably intended to take credit for changes in GVN policy then underway, since, except for halting conscription, the Duong Van Minh government was undertaking every reform the NLF called for. However, the first extensive official statement of the NLF Central Committee following Diem's downfall. issued November 17, 1963, did reassert the reunification objective: Concerning the reunification of Vietnam, as was expounded many times by the South Vietnam National Liberation Front, the Vietnam Fatherland Front and the DRV government, it will be realized step by step on a voluntary basis, with consideration given to the characteristics of each zone. with equality, and without annexation of one zone by the other. Concerning coalition government there was less vacillation in NLF emphasis» although there was some detectable variation in the welcome extended from time to time to anti-communist political movements. Similarly. the objective of "neutralization" was constant. Cambodia was held up as a model. and there was some implication in early NLF statements that it would accept international supervision of "neutralization,' Beginning in 1963 NLF statements were couched to convey the notion that "reunification" and "neutralization" were distinct one from the other. apparently out of deference to DRV reaction against proposals to neutralize North Vietnam. b.


The NLF founders were shadowy figures most of whom had earned modest repute on the murky fringes of Vietnamese politics. They seem to have been


GrQvel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. I

chosen with an eye to avoiding known Communists, and to obtaining wide representation from South Vietnam's complicated society. Although the NLF Central Committee reserved places for 52 members, only 31 names were publicized as founding members, indicating either a large covert membership, or, more likely, simple inability to find eligible persons to fill the posts. A U.S. study of 73 NLF leaders in 1965 indicated that almost all were born in South Vietnam, and almost all were highly educated. Most had histories of anti-French political activity, or identification with religious movements, and it appears that if many were not themselves crypto-communists, they had known and worked with communists for years. The prime example of the group is Nguyen Huu Tho, who was the first formally elected chairman of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the NLF. Tho was a Cochinchinese lawyer, once a socialist, who spent some months with the Viet Minh in the Mekong Delta in 1947. He thereafter led anti-French and anti-US demonstrations, defended a number of Vietnamese before Saigon courts for crimes related to the "Resistance," and served some time in French jails. He also edited a clandestine Viet Minh newspaper aimed at Saigon intellectuals. In August, 1954, he became vice chairman of the leftist Saigon Peace Committee, or Movement for the Defense of Peace (MDP). In November, 1954, according to CIA information, Tho and others in the MDP were arrested, and Tho spent the next seven years in Diem's detention centers. Mysteriously released in December, 1961, the CIA reported him elected to NLF office at the congress of March, 1962. Douglas Pike's information has Tho active in Saigon politics through 1958, at which time he was jailed. His NLF biography states that "he was liberated by a daring guerrilla raid on the jail in 1961," but Pike, unable to find any record of such a raid, concludes that Tho was provisional chairman and was selected Central Committee Chairman at the organizing meeting.



The NLF rapidly took on organizational reality from the Central Committee down through a web of subordinate and associated groups to villages allover Vietnam. Pike estimates that within a few months of its founding in December, 1960, its membership doubled, doubled again by autumn, 1961, and then redoubled by early 1962, at which time 300,000 Vietnamese were on its roles. These were members of the "liberation associations," NLF per se. of which there were administrative associations (e.g., provincial headquarters) and functional associations (e.g., Youth Liberation Association); or, they belonged to one of several political parties, including the communist party, affiliated with the NLF; or, they served in the Liberation Army. Normally, each man, woman and child belonged to many organizations simultaneously. A French analysis of Viet Minh organization aptly described the NLF: The individual is enchained in several networks of independent hierarchies . . . a territorial hierarchy . . . running from the family and the block to the interprovincial government, and associations that incorporate male and female youth groups, groups of mothers, of farmers, factory, and plantation workers' syndicates . . . they could just as well include clubs of flute players or bicycle racers; the essential thing is that no one escapes from '[his enrollment and that the territorial hierarchy is crossed by another one, which supervises the first and is in tum supervised by it, both being overseen by police organizations and the [Communist] Party. . . .

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960


The key operational components of the NLF were the Liberation Army and the People's Revolutionary Party, as the communists within the NLF termed themselves. The former had a lien on the services of every NLF member, man, woman or child, although functionally its missions were usually carried out by formally organized and trained paramilitary or full-time units. All "Viet Cong" units were, from 1961 on, regarded as part of the Liberation Army. There can be little doubt that communists played a major role in organizing the NLF. Although Diem's Communist Denunciation campaign had foreclosed "Front" activity, the communists of South Vietnam possessed the leadership, tight subordination and conspiratorial doctrine necessary for them to survive; moreover, they were, as Milton Sacks characterized them, "the most persevering, most cohesive, best-disciplined, and most experienced political group in Vietnam." The People's Revolutionary Party was not formed until January, 1962; it was explicitly the "Marxist-Leninist Party of South Vietnam," and it purported to be the "vanguard of the NLF, the paramount member." In 1962, it had some 35,000 members. The Lao Dong Party had continued low level overt activity, as well as covert operations, in South Vietnam throughout the years 1955 to 1962. For example, leaflets were distributed over the Lao Dong imprimatur. But the PRP denied official links with the Lao Dong Party of the DRV beyond "fraternal ties of communism." The denial implies the question: What roles did the DRV and the Lao Dong Party play in the years of patient work necessary to bring the NLF to flower in so short a time after 1960? What role did they play in the insurgency overall? The official U.S. view has been that the PRP is merely the southern arm of the Lao Dong Party, and one instrument by which Hanoi instigated and controlled the revolt against "My-Diem." Douglas Pike's analysis led him to concur, with reservations: The Viet Minh elements in South Vietnam during the struggle against the French had of course included many non-Communist elements. . . . After 1954 many Viet Minh entered the ranks of the new Diem government, and even a decade later many of the top military and civilian governmental figures in Saigon were former Viet Minh. Nevertheless the Viet Minh elements, made up chiefly but not entirely of Communists, continued to offer resistance to the Diem government. . . . In terms of overt activity such as armed incidents of the distribution of propaganda leaflets the period was quiet and the Communists within the remnant Viet Minh organization relatively inactive. In addition, much of the activity that did take place apparently was the work of impatient cadres operating in the South independently of Hanoi's orders. . . . Such action on their part and the religious sects is understandable, and the emergence of a clandestine militant opposition group could be expected. . . . such an effort would be in complete harmony with Vietnamese social tradition and individual psychology. But there is a vast difference between a collection of clandestine opposition political groups and the organizational weapon that emerged, a difference in kind and not just degree. The National Liberation Front was not simply another indigenous covert group, or even a coalition of such groups. It was an organizational steamroller, nationally conceived and nationally organized, endowed with ample cadres and funds, crashing out of the jungle to flatten the GVN. It was not an ordinary secret society of the kind that had dotted the Vietnamese political landscape for


Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Yolo 1 decades. It projected a social construction program of such scope and ambition that of necessity it must have been created in Hanoi and imported. A revolutionary organization must build; it begins with persons suffering genuine grievances. who are slowly organized and whose militancy gradually increases until a critical mass is reached and the revolution explodes. Exactly the reverse was the case with the NLF. It sprang full-blown into existence and then was fleshed out. The grievances were developed or manufactured almost as a necessary afterthought. The creation of the NLF was an accomplishment of such skill. precision. and refinement that when one thinks of who the master planner must have been. only one name comes to mind: Vietnam organizational genius. Ho Chi Minh. 9s

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